Taiwan is a country. Let’s start with that.
Despite what China thinks and actively tries to propagate, the truth remains that Taiwan is a separate country. It is not just a “breakaway province” from China. However, it seems to be a difficult pill to swallow. Thus, China has been actively disturbing Taiwan’s democracy lately. In this piece, I outline the different efforts that China has taken recently that contribute to the rising pressure between the two countries, and global anticipation of an invasion.
First on the list is the intensifying military pressure at the Taiwan Strait. Since 2020, the People’s Liberation Army (China) is found to be flying their aircrafts near it which elicits fear and intimidation to the Taiwanese public. Up until now, PLA warplanes roam around the area. Actually, it is reported that last March, there were twenty PLA military aircrafts that roamed around Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. It is said that by far it is the most number of Chinese military aircrafts reported roaming around the Taiwan strait (Reuters, 2021).
How does Chinese military presence or more specifically the presence of PLA warplanes in the Taiwan strait threaten the latter’s democracy? Is this a good indication or forecast that there is a possibility that war is bound to happen? Some analysts would say that China does not want war to happen. However with the political drama they bring through the presence of their military aircraft in Taiwan strait, it is not impossible that in one way or another Taiwan would retaliate. Now, Taiwan is said to be preparing for it in case something happens or erupts.
This very act disturbs Taiwan’s democracy. Their presence causes intimidation, fear, and possibly low morale. If this continues and grows to even bigger things, it creates political instability. It would not even be surprising if some would feel compelled or more comfortable to just surrender than to feel constantly unsafe.
Second, recently China is strengthening its grip on Hong Kong. China’s clear disregard for civil liberties and human rights in Hong Kong is seen as a threat by Taiwan. Protests in Hong Kong started back in 2019 when Hong Kong leaders proposed amendments to the extradition laws. The proposed amendments shall allow suspected criminals to be brought and subjected to Chinese judiciary. Protesters oppose the said proposal for they view this as surrendering their independence to China. With the law in place, they fear the possibility that activists and journalists will be targeted as well. Also under China’s judicial system, Hongkongers fear that they may face or be subject to unfair, harsher, and more violent treatment (Li, 2019).
Protests in Hong Kong still continue up to this day. China holding a tighter grip into their system elicits tension, pressures, and fears to other countries specifically to Taiwan whom it had a long history of conflict with. Taiwan then sees the current situation of Hong Kong as a warning that a war between them and China might start soon, especially with military forces starting to intrude in their area, Taiwan strait.
With the rapid growth of the digital media, it is not surprising that politicians would tap into this medium to advance their political agenda and self-interests. This has been a go-to move of politicians and their camps today. Last on our list of China’s efforts are done through the digital media. At this point, it should come as no surprise that Taiwan is going to be under cyber attack by the Chinese government.
In a report by Eric Chang (2020), he said that there are more than 1,200 fake social media accounts that are posting suspicious content. The accounts are said to be pushing for a pro-China agenda. Apparently, there were 1,000 Twitter accounts, 53 Facebook pages, 61 Facebook accounts, and 187 Youtube channels discovered by BBC. It has been observed that the content of these planted social media accounts aim to influence the Taiwan public, especially its youth. In fact, China has also been collaborating with Taiwanese social media influencers. These influencers talk about their life in the mainland and really try to persuade their viewers that there is comfort living and being reunited with the Mainland (CGTN, 2021).
During the last presidential elections, these accounts posted propaganda to attack President Tsai Ing-wen, who won by a landslide. Now, the propagandas to attack her and her administration continues up to this day as well. As these digital attacks and propagandas become more abundant, Taiwanese government appeals to people to be more vigilant and alert. They even reported that these cyber attacks even went beyond just the use of social media to spread fake news and disinformation. It has gotten to a point where there was even hacking involved. The Chinese government was said to have a connection with these hacking efforts that tried to steal pertinent data and attacked 6,000 email accounts of government officials (Lee, 2020).
I argue that democratic states are really prone to attacks of disinformation and propaganda. Freedom of speech, diversity of opinions, and access to information are highly regarded in a democracy. They, in fact, play a very important role in maintaining the quality of democracy that a state has. However, as we all know, these things are something that the Chinese public do not get to enjoy. Chinese journalists are even proud of the censorship that goes on in their country. Now, as China invades they really bank on social media and the use of technology to polarize the Taiwanese public and gain it back.
Aside from the possibility of polarization, military attacks both on land and on air may lead Taiwanese public to feel demoralized. Although they have a long history of resistance and trust that democracy works for their country, we cannot deny the possibility that this may also happen. If there is one thing that is clear here, it is that China is playing with Taiwan. They are actively intimidating them with their PLA military presence in the area of Taiwan Strait and their tightened grip with Hong Kong. On the other hand, they have also been spreading both persuasive and appealing to Taiwan’s public good sense, and intimidating or untrustworthy content or propaganda.