Belt and Road

Belt And Road Initiative Is China’s New Coercion Strategy Against Taiwan

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Image by VOA via Wikimedia Commons

In 2013 Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive economic co-operation project aimed at creating a new ‘Silk Road‘ of commerce between Asia and Europe.

Though Beijing has claimed that the BRI offers win-win solutions for international trade, some analysts have argued that China’s willingness to invest in other countries’ infrastructure and expand economic relations comes at a political cost.

According to Paul Haenle, Director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, “China’s growing influence is a concern for nations whose political interests do not always align with Beijing’s.”

The fact that such concerns are not mere speculation is proved by Beijing’s attempts at using the BRI to encircle, isolate and weaken the government of Taiwan. It should not come as a surprise that it is the Communist government itself that bluntly revealed its political goals by means of its propaganda organs.

A recent article published by Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily encapsulates Beijing’s carrot and stick approach towards Taiwan, warning Taipei that co-operation will be beneficial, while defiance and isolation will wreck the island’s economy. China’s openly stated objective is to try and force the Taiwanese authorities to accept the “1992 consensus“.

“3 years ago the mainland [of China] put forward the ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’ and extended a sincere invitation to Taiwan to participate,” wrote People’s Daily journalist Wang Ping in the piece. “Unfortunately the island has taken the wrong steps due to its internal political vicissitudes, and the Taiwanese authorities presently regard the BRI as a taboo.”

Wang warned Taipei that if it continues to stay outside of the BRI, “it will be a disaster for Taiwan.”

The author criticized the ‘New Southbound Policy‘ (NSP) launched by Taiwan’s President Ts’ai Ying-wen, arguing that it cannot compare with the BRI and is doomed to fail. “The BRI is a pioneering project that follows an economic rationale,” wrote Wang, “while the NSP is a reckless economic plan determined solely by a political calculus.”

According to Wang, Ts’ai Ying-wen‘s recent attempts to explain the NSP to the public can perhaps “only be understood as a way to spread political propaganda and build up self-esteem.”

Wang further mentioned the changed geopolitical situation after Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on which “the Taiwanese authorities were placing their hope.”

Wang argued that China has a strong economic position in East and Southeast Asia and that Taiwan’s NSP will not be able to “circumvent the BRI.” He added that Taipei had already “missed” another big opportunity when it failed to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

“If it continues to miss the development opportunities offered by the BRI, Taiwan will make a huge mistake that could result in a weaker and poorer economy,” Wang quoted Lin Chien-shan (Bert J. Lim), Professor and President at The World Economics Society and member of the Guomindang, as saying.

Wang then referred to an article by mainland scholar Wu Wei, who argued that Taiwan’s refusal to join the BRI is caused by “ideology and populism.” According to Wu, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is worried that “economic and social integration across the strait” might have an impact on “its illusions of ‘Taiwan’s independence'”.

The author explained in the piece that regardless of the hostility on the part of Taiwan’s authorities Taiwanese business people continue to invest in mainland China and take advantage of the opportunities the BRI offers.

“Although Taiwan’s authorities pursue an ostrich policy, Taiwanese companies still have ways to take part in the BRI. Even if communication channels between the two sides of the strait have been cut, people-to-people exchanges are still warm,” he wrote.

Wang lashed out at the Ts’ai administration, arguing that the DPP pursues “selfish aims” that “will in the end harm Taiwan’s overall interests.”

He extolled China’s achievements and the fulfillment of its destiny of greatness. “The BRI is yet another sign of the mainland’s rise and of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation; it is also a result of the trend towards globalization.”

In view of this Taiwan’s authorities “will have to carefully consider whether they want to follow or resist the mighty world current,” he concluded.

Wang Ping’s article demonstrates that Beijing will not hesitate to use the BRI as a means to put pressure on those who oppose its agenda. The Xi administration had already signalled that it would deploy such strategy in its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. It is an open question whether countries outside of China’s immediate political orbit, too, will have to pay a price for joining Beijing’s vision of a new world order.


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