China can use many tactics to sustain national sovereignty without creating a worst-case scenario

James Smith

Separatist leaders in China’s Taiwan island appear to have adopted a very clear strategy in order to try and pursue secession from China.

Styled as “provocation diplomacy,” the island seeks to forcibly expand its own international space by deliberately undermining China’s relationships with order countries by utilizing itself as a wedge issue, aiming provoking a reaction from Beijing. It does this by utilizing a politics of “publicity stunts” whereby it seeks out anti-China individual and causes in various countries, and then deliberately bribes them expanding ties in ways which violate that respective country’s commitments to the one-China principle, seeking to create controversy, arouse anti-China sentiment and create support for itself.

Examples of this behavior include opening a representative office in Lithuania under the name “Taiwan,” inviting and funding the trips of as many anti-China politicians and legislators from various countries to the island as possible, such as for example former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott; applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), writing op-eds in Western publications, funding anti-China think tanks, as well as actively courting support on social media. The separatists are utilizing an “all guns blazing” public relations war against the mainland, buoyed by the Western press, which seeks to salami slice the one-China principle. When Beijing reacts to these provocations, it is then branded “the aggressor.”

However, while this policy seeks to procure sympathy for Taiwan island, it is not a winning strategy and nor does it have an endgame. It seeks to push against red lines by nibbling away at the fringes and capitalizes on any support it can desperately get, but it does not have an answer to how China will respond in the long run to these attempts to push for secession. In other words, this strategy cannot change Taiwan island’s destiny and nor can it convince countries to abrogate their commitments to the one-China principle and their broader relationships with China as a whole. The mainland is ready to respond, and will gradually bring an end to Tsai Ing-wen’s little games in due course.

First of all, most countries in the world recognize that to discard the one-China principle goes against their national interest, an economically self-defeating and isolating move. China remains the world’s largest consumer market, the world’s largest exporting country and the world’s 2nd largest economy overall. Taiwan is a small island populated by 22 million or so people. Despite this, separatists constantly go against reality and like to pitch themselves as an “alternative” saying that they can compensate matters such as trade, investment, vaccines and other forms of support, hence when scapegoating China a year ago they launched the “Taiwan can help” campaign – and recently announced a trade delegation to Central and Eastern Europe.

This is of course all nonsense. No country in the world, not even the US would completely forsake their diplomatic and economic relationship with China to displace it with the island of Taiwan. As Lithuania discovered, to actively violate these provisions comes with serious economic consequences.

Despite the media proclaiming such a reaction disgraces China, China’s bilateral diplomacy with Germany and France, as well as the EU as an institution, continues irrespectively.

Countries that violate the one-China principle isolate themselves. Ganging up provocative politicians against the mainland in various countries does not change much. This is also why Taiwan’s ill-fated idea to join the CPTPP won’t succeed.

Secondly, Tsai is miscalculating that she can continue to push against China’s reline with such move because it is inconceivable that Beijing would take drastic action against her or pursue a military response, thus tying their hands. She assumes China will bluster, but not act. This strategy mirrors the “provocation diplomacy” also utilized by Hong Kong rioters and separatists throughout 2019.

Many of the stunts calling for international support, coordinated social media trolling, winning sympathy from certain Western politicians and attempting to lure China into a harsh response to tarnish its image all sound familiar. Yet did any of these tactics change its fate? It ought to be noted that the Hong Kong movement was ended swiftly, without bloodshed and more importantly, with very little resistance from the West bar angry rhetoric and symbolic measures.

It is naïve to assume that China has no other options to pursue reunification other than pursuing an outright conflict. It has plenty of means to accelerate pressure without provoking a crisis and will continue to do so in order to achieve eventual reunification. China is likely to achieve an outcome in the end, which as with Hong Kong, will be met with very little resistance from the international community and leave the West powerless to respond.

In summary, provocation diplomacy strategies waged by Taiwan separatists will meet a dead end. The Chinese mainland is prepared to roll back the salami-slicing, public relations stunts in the bid to affirming “one China.” No country has the political or economic will to cross the red line as much as Tsai could hope to do, and this is where she will fall.

The Biden administration continues to pay lip service to the island, but he knows there is very little he can do to change the eventual outcome, and has demonstrated a weakness in capitulating to the threat of force.

Without creating a worst-case scenario, China will utilize a variety of tactics to sustain its national sovereignty.

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