American Enterprise Institute
Date: January 14, 2020
By: Michael Mazza, Visiting Fellow
This past Saturday, Taiwan’s seventh direct presidential election marked a bright spot for democracy in Asia. In a region that has suffered in places from weak democratic institutions and authoritarian resurgence, Taiwan’s relatively young democracy has proven resilient. Yet storm clouds are gathering. The country’s institutions may be strong, but it faces an ever-present and growing threat from the People’s Republic of China.
Since Tsai Ing-wen’s election to the presidency in 2016, Taiwan has contended with an unrelenting pressure campaign from the PRC. Beijing has used military, diplomatic, and economic tools in an attempt to bring the Tsai government to heel. That government has consistently advocated for maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, but has refused to acquiesce to a key Beijing demand—that Taipei accept there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.
Tsai, who was just elected to a second term in large part due to her promise to defend Taiwan’s democracy, will stick to her guns on the question of “one China.” The Chinese pressure campaign is likely to persist. In the coming years, that campaign may include formal or informal import bans on Taiwanese goods; military provocations; information warfare operations aimed at destabilizing Taiwanese society; and the poaching of diplomatic allies. Since Tsai’s inauguration in 2016, the PRC has swiped seven of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and Chinese state media has promised that, in the event of her reelection, Beijing would poach the 15 that remain.
These challenges are not insurmountable, but if Taiwan is to weather the storm, it is important that it not stand alone. The United States has been a staunch ally for decades, but European partners, too, have an interest in ensuring that Taiwan remains free and that the Strait remains at peace.