Source: East Asia Forum
Authors: Alan Hao Yang and Jeremy Huai-Che Chiang, TAEF
Beijing has been increasing pressure on Taiwan recently. From a recent move to ban individual travel permits for Chinese visitors to Taiwan to two large-scale military drills close to the Taiwan Strait, China appears to be ramping up efforts to influence Taiwan’s upcoming 2020 presidential elections.
This is nothing new. Since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration in 2016, China has not given Taiwan a day of rest in its battle to preserve autonomy. China’s diplomatic offensives have already cost Taiwan five allies, while Beijing’s ‘31 measures‘ and other pro-unification incentives have polarised attitudes across the island towards its gigantic neighbour. Cyber operatives and grassroots United Front activities have also damaged Taiwan’s democracy.
Despite this pressure, a ‘new’ Taiwan has emerged that is increasingly willing to think beyond cross-strait mechanisms and to embrace a new regional role. This new Taiwan embodies progressive liberal values while seeking to display a stabilising role in the emerging Indo-Pacific theatre. This is not a sudden transformation but an incremental process that has been in the making for years.
Starting with its New Southbound Policy in 2016, Taiwan has been working relentlessly to expand ties with its southern neighbours. While Taiwan had similar policies before 2016, previous initiatives focused on traditional economic cooperation. The New Southbound Policy includes comprehensive engagement efforts in diverse areas. Taiwan has already set up agricultural demonstration farms and provided related technological training to local organisations in Indonesia, with the Philippines and Vietnam to follow.