China’s Hardline Stance Intensifies Taiwan Conflict

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By: Qamar Bashir

In a stunning and perhaps desperate move, China has issued judicial guidelines on imposing criminal punishment on diehard “Taiwan independence” separatists for organizing, plotting, or carrying out schemes of “de jure independence,” or seeking independence from China in collusion with any foreign government, overseas institution, organization, or individual, and has set severe punishments. The issuance of judicial guidelines signifies a hardening stance on Taiwan’s independence movement which included allowing for trials in absentia underscoring China’s determination to deter any steps towards Taiwanese independence by defining legal repercussions more clearly and harshly.

For Taiwan and its separatists, these guidelines represent an escalation in the legal and political pressure from Beijing. They signal that China is prepared to take more aggressive legal action against those advocating for Taiwan’s independence, potentially increasing risks for Taiwanese leaders and activists. The threat of harsher penalties and trials in absentia could also create a chilling effect on pro-independence activities and rhetoric within Taiwan.

For the United States and Western countries, this development is likely to be seen as a challenge to their support for Taiwan’s autonomy. It could complicate diplomatic relations and necessitate stronger statements or actions in defense of Taiwan. The guidelines might also impact U.S. and Western citizens or organizations interacting with Taiwan, as they could be perceived as colluding with separatists under China’s broadened definitions.

Countries supporting the “One China” policy, like Pakistan, might find themselves in a more delicate position. While they recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan, these nations must balance their diplomatic relations with both China and other countries supporting Taiwan. The guidelines could pressure these countries to publicly reiterate their commitment to the “One China” policy and distance themselves from any perceived support for Taiwanese independence to avoid political or economic repercussions from China.

This move is an obvious reaction to the unjust consistent and outright support of the United State of America and the West to the Taiwan separatists diplomatically and equipping them for violent struggle. The United States and its Western allies support Taiwan separatists through diplomatic, economic, defense, and advocacy measures. Diplomatically, the U.S. and Western countries maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan through trade offices and cultural exchanges, with high-level visits such as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in 2022. They advocate for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations like the World Health Assembly. Economically, the U.S. and Taiwan have agreements like the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and collaborate in critical industries such as semiconductors, where Taiwan’s TSMC plays a key role. Financial support includes investments in tech startups and infrastructure projects.

Defense and security measures include significant arms sales, such as the $2.2 billion sale in 2019, which included Abrams tanks and Stinger missiles, and military training and advisory support. The Taiwan Relations Act commits the U.S. to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, exemplified by regular naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait. Advocacy efforts focus on promoting Taiwan’s democracy and human rights, with public statements and support for Taiwanese civil society organizations. Educational and cultural exchanges, such as the Fulbright Scholarship, enhance ties and mutual understanding. These comprehensive measures help Taiwan resist Chinese pressure and maintain its de facto independence.

They are helping Taiwan separatists to employ diverse strategies domestically and internationally. Domestically, they influence public opinion and policy through democratic elections and legislative actions, while also promoting a distinct Taiwanese culture and identity.

Internationally, they engage in informal diplomacy, seek participation in global organizations, and strengthen security ties, particularly with the United States, to bolster their defense capabilities. Additionally, Taiwan focuses on economic measures like trade diversification and technological advancements to reduce reliance on China and increase its global standing.

Despite their efforts, Taiwan separatists face significant challenges from China’s diplomatic, economic, and military pressure aimed at isolating Taiwan and discouraging its independence.

Internal divisions within Taiwan also complicate the independence movement, as opinions vary on the issue. Moreover, the international community’s adherence to the “One China” policy limits Taiwan’s formal recognition as a sovereign state. Nonetheless, the movement persists in its pursuit of greater international support and recognition, striving to maintain Taiwan’s democratic values and autonomy.

 China’s new judicial guidelines targeting Taiwan separatists will likely provoke strong defiance from Taiwanese independence advocates, who may increase their activism despite the risk of harsher penalties and trials in absentia. The United States and Western allies are expected to condemn the move, reaffirm support for Taiwan, and potentially enhance diplomatic, economic, and military ties with the island. This escalation could strain U.S.-China and China-West relations, leading to reduced trade, economic sanctions, and heightened military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Consequently, regional tensions may rise, polarizing alliances and destabilizing global economic and security dynamics.

China’s new judicial guidelines against Taiwan separatists will directly pressure countries supporting the One China policy to reaffirm their commitment, potentially leading to diplomatic rewards or repercussions from China. These countries may have to align their international positions more closely with Beijing, limiting their engagement with Taiwan. Indirectly, heightened regional tensions could destabilize the Asia-Pacific, impacting global supply chains and creating economic uncertainty. These nations might also face challenges balancing their ties with China and Western countries supporting Taiwan, while domestic public opinion could shift, pressuring governments to address human rights concerns more transparently.

China aims to reinforce its sovereignty claims over Taiwan and deter moves toward independence by imposing harsh penalties on separatists, thereby intimidating pro-independence activities and discouraging foreign support.

To control the fallout, China will engage in diplomatic efforts to reassure and strengthen bilateral ties with countries supporting the One China policy through trade deals, investment agreements, and strategic partnerships. Additionally, China will offer economic incentives, such as increased trade and participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, conduct military exercises to demonstrate its readiness, and use public diplomacy to justify its policies. Internally, China will enhance security measures to monitor dissent and implement laws to further criminalize support for Taiwanese independence, aiming to maintain regional stability and international support while solidifying its territorial claims.

By: Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC