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Beijing's attempts to intimidate Taiwan have backfired

In the past few months, the United States has worked to deepen its longstanding relationship with Taiwan and encourage like-minded allies to openly support it. Many saw this as a necessary response to Beijing's attempts to convince the Taiwanese people and military of the inevitability of reunification and to show the United States its determination to achieve this goal by force if necessary. To date, this strategy has yet to convince Taiwan that Beijing cannot be stopped or convince the United States to step down. Instead, it is creating greater urgency among the United States and its allies and putting Taiwan on the international agenda. With its credibility badly damaged by the Hong Kong crackdown and domestic repression, Beijing's tactics have only made its way to cross-strait unification difficult.

China's pressure campaign against Taiwan has intensified since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took office. Tsai of the independence-oriented Democratic Progressive Party refused to accept Beijing's phrase "One China," which Taiwan regards as a province of a single China. Tsai's defiance is the culmination of a dramatic turnaround in Taiwan's public opinion against mainland unification after witnessing Beijing crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy. To force Taiwan into submission, Beijing has mobilized a series of coercive measures that have been met through increased US support for Taiwan. When the Chinese People's Liberation Army tested missiles and stepped up cross-strait exercises, U.S. President Joe Biden responded by normalizing U.S. warship transits near Taiwan, coupled with selling advanced weapons to Taipei to strengthen his ability to to fend off a Chinese invasion asymmetrically. When Beijing tried to exert economic influence over Taiwan, the United States resumed long-stalled trade talks with the Taiwanese government, despite Biden saying that concluding new trade deals is not a priority at the moment.

In the past few months, the United States has worked to deepen its longstanding relationship with Taiwan and encourage like-minded allies to openly support it. Many saw this as a necessary response to Beijing's attempts to convince the Taiwanese people and military of the inevitability of reunification and to show the United States its determination to achieve this goal by force if necessary. To date, this strategy has yet to convince Taiwan that Beijing cannot be stopped or convince the United States to step down. Instead, it is creating greater urgency among the United States and its allies and putting Taiwan on the international agenda. With its credibility badly damaged by the Hong Kong crackdown and domestic repression, Beijing's tactics have only made its way to cross-strait unification difficult.

China's pressure campaign against Taiwan has intensified since 2016 when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took office. Tsai of the independence-oriented Democratic Progressive Party refused to accept Beijing's phrase "One China," which Taiwan regards as a province of a single China. Tsai's defiance is the culmination of a dramatic turnaround in Taiwan's public opinion against mainland unification after witnessing Beijing crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy. To force Taiwan into submission, Beijing has mobilized a series of coercive measures that have been met through increased US support for Taiwan. When the Chinese People's Liberation Army tested missiles and stepped up cross-strait exercises, U.S. President Joe Biden responded by normalizing U.S. warship transits near Taiwan, coupled with selling advanced weapons to Taipei to strengthen his ability to to fend off a Chinese invasion asymmetrically. When Beijing tried to exert economic influence over Taiwan, the United States resumed long-stalled trade talks with the Taiwanese government, despite Biden saying that concluding new trade deals is not a priority at the moment.

Under Biden, the White House and Congress are designed to ensure that Taiwan is an issue in its own right, and not a sideline to US-China relations. At a time when bipartisanism is rare, Democrats and Republicans are in lockstep to launch new initiatives in support of Taiwan. The current Congress is well on its way to breaking the record number of bills related to Taiwan that the previous Congress put forward with 33 bills.

Current bills include the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which aims to help Taiwan expedite its acquisition of asymmetric defense weapons, create a community for U.S. government employees to work in the Taiwanese government, and instruct the Secretary of State to act with allies Coordinate to prevent China from changing the status quo of the cross-strait. In order not to be outdone by lawmakers, the Biden government eased restrictions on government contacts with the Taiwanese government and donated COVID-19 vaccines as Tsai was pressured to accept cans from China.

Since the repeal of the Republic of China in 1979, the United States has been closest to Taiwan. In the past few months, U.S. delegations, including senators, cabinet officials and an acting ambassador, have landed in Taipei to reaffirm American support for the strait for stability and bilateral engagement. Despite Beijing protesting these visits as a violation of Chinese sovereignty, the Biden government has doubled in size and has expressed its intention to develop relations with Taiwan in "every sector". Americans' attitudes towards Taiwan have also changed, with an increasing proportion of Americans supporting US intervention in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan (41%), a number that has remained since 2014 despite the overwhelming war weariness of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States' doubled commitments to Taiwan have spread to the international stage. The international community has long kept Taiwan at a distance, banned it from international fora and often gave in to Chinese pressure, but this has started to change. Beijing's blocking of Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to caution about China's behavior and increased Taiwan's visibility. After decades of neglecting cross-strait stability and Taiwan's involvement in multilateral institutions, they are now on the agenda of the G-7, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the European Union. Beijing's attempts to revise the cross-strait status quo have already forced Australia and South Korea to take a stance on the cross-strait and test China's sensitivities. Even Japan, which has US bases within 500 miles of Taiwan, is now recognizing that Taiwan's security is closely tied to its own security, and is even questioning its adherence to the "One China" position. China's actions have effectively invited Taiwan to new international support and introduced a new fighter into a potential war, making its own strategic calculation difficult.

There is no doubt that China expected international backlash to its pressure on Taiwan, but growing US commitments and international attention will strengthen Taiwan's determination to defend, not weaken, its democracy and identity. The fact that unification with Taiwan is a cornerstone of the Chinese Communist Party's national rejuvenation goal has further increased domestic political pressures. Although Chinese President Xi Jinping's attempts to intimidate Taiwan may gain much applause at home, his tactics have made the path to reunification more difficult and costly. Taiwan's greatest vulnerability is its international isolation, and instead of taking advantage of it, Beijing's conspicuous coercive tactics have helped Taiwan gain more international support than it has seen in decades. Whether Beijing's psychological tactics will work remains to be seen, but China has given Taiwan as many reasons to be confident as it is concerned.

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