China’s Growing Coercion on Taiwan Holds Lessons for the International Community
At a time of worrying tensions between the world’s two superpowers, last week’s visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi sparked an aggressive cascade of Chinese government attacks on the island on multiple fronts. . An understanding of the full range of coercive activities beyond the military realm is key to countering Beijing during further escalations.
The Chinese Communist Party will exploit any non-traditional security vulnerabilities to exert control over Taiwan, but it will also do so in international disputes deemed sensitive to its internal stability. It is important to analyze the full scope and potential of the tactics used, as the tools used to deter support for Taiwan will be largely the same in any international effort challenging Beijing on a range of major issues.
Taiwan has always been a hot spot to watch closely for those studying the CCP’s coercive art. This is especially true of hybrid activity – the spectrum of gray area threats short of conventional warfare – in the economic, cybernetic and information fields. In recent history, coercion against Taiwan has been incremental and not necessarily attributable to a clear trigger; rather, it can be seen as part of a larger campaign to pressure and isolate Taipei.
It is rare to see the coordinated deployment of such a wide range of tactics in such a short time and on such a scale and intensity as the response to Pelosi’s visit. It is a show of force intended to warn those who may be tempted to cross China’s “red lines” in the future, even though this visit did not violate any international rules or commitments. With hybrid activity, Beijing likely thinks it can impose costs on Taiwan while minimizing the risk of military conflict and possible US intervention. Beijing now hopes that the United States and others will allow this malicious activity to go unchecked, which will only encourage the CCP to step up its efforts.
In the economic realm, the past week provided what may be the most severe example of Chinese coercion against Taiwan, although the extent and impact cannot yet be gauged. So far, Beijing has imposed new import bans on more than 2,000 Taiwanese food products and other brakes on citrus and seafood. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has also announcement suspension of natural sand exports to Taiwan. Cutting its own exports is rare for China, which generally favors sanctions limiting access to its market. Sand is a key material in semiconductor manufacturing, although Taiwan has said it does not rely heavily on Chinese imports.
China’s generally contradictory and arbitrary justifications for trade restrictions were exposed throughout the week. Official ministry sources cited technical and legal reasons, while state media made it clear that the sanctions were punitive. This again raises several questions about how to deal with this behavior when the lines are blurred and Beijing can exploit plausible deniability. Despite a growing list of precedents, the international community still has a lot of work to do to define what support and collective action in the face of such measures should look like.
Since 2021, as part of its broader campaign against the government of Tsai Ing-wen, China has imposed targeted bans on Taiwanese Pineapple, Toffee apples, consolidator and Meat. These sanctions have been manageable because agricultural products account for only US$200 million of Taiwan’s annual exports to China. A senior Taiwanese official said the bans were tailored to regions where Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party enjoys strong support.
“But now they’re expanding that significantly as they’re targeting processed foods. This gives them enormous powers of extortion,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, vice chairman of the Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council. said. To avoid future retaliation, it will be essential to reduce Beijing’s extortion power, and this should be coupled with a broader regional strategy of economic resilience vis-à-vis China.
In the cyber domain, Pelosi’s visit sparked a wave of denial of service attacks on the websites of the Taiwanese President, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Chain of 7/11 convenience stores, train stations and government facilities using Chinese software in their digital signage systems have been hacked and posted messages slandering Pelosi. Chinese technology company Sina also suddenly suspended its Weibo service in Taiwan.
This escalation occurred in a broader context of growing cyber hostility. Cyberattacks against the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs multiplied by 40 between 2018 and 2020, reaching 2,100 intrusions per day, according to local media. This should be another clear sign for countries to be concerned about the security and reliability risks associated with Chinese technology.
Pressure on Taiwan in the information environment has also intensified. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it discovered 272 attempts to spread misinformation last week, including a report by Chinese state-run newspaper The People’s Daily Su-35 fighter jets of the People’s Liberation Air Force were crossing the Taiwan Strait. Information and influence operations have long been a lever used by China to pressure Taiwan. Earlier this year, the APL official publication describes information warfare as playing a central role to conventional military force.
Just as China can use its coordinated escalation in these areas as drills for future conflicts, this is a crucial opportunity for the rest of the world to learn how these tactics could be deployed against any state in a dispute with China. China, and what effective remedies would seek. As. The past week has highlighted the need for strategic communications to counter Chinese government narratives seeking to justify “countermeasures” and to more effectively expose tactical disinformation.
In response to the crisis sparked by Pelosi’s visit, the US-Australia-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and G7 Foreign Ministers and EU High Representative expressed concern over China’s “escalating” actions and the risk to regional stability, with the latter specifically calling for economic coercion. These were important demonstrations of solidarity. China rejection of the G7 declaration, rebuke of foreign ministers and warning to Australia ‘so as not to create new problems’ testifies to the firmness with which Beijing opposes international demonstrations of support for Taiwan. Speaking up is essential, but it’s only the first step.
Taiwan has been an example of restraint and determination for all countries that have fallen victim to the CCP’s use of coercive tactics. Governments should be careful not to reduce or postpone their planned and potential meetings with Taiwan officials in the wake of Beijing’s latest actions. A smart agenda item would be to consult with Taipei to better understand the hybrid threats we may all face in the future, how to counter them, and how to continue efforts to build stability in the region.