China tightens the diplomatic screws on Taiwan

A report reveals that Beijing is constantly applying pressure at the United Nations to freeze out the island democracy

ChinaDiction was founded by Chris Taylor, a long-time observer of China, Taiwan and cross-strait affairs. Below is an edited version of the ChinaDiction newsletter from April 8. 

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It’s difficult to imagine Beijing increasing pressure on the world to accept the identity of Taiwan as irrevocably Chinese. But that’s exactly what’s happening, according to a new report.

The German Marshall Fund (GMF) states that China’s “pervasiveness” in high-level positions at the United Nations gives it undue pressure to exert its agenda in a world that still, for the most part, has not learned how to say No to China.

The findings of the report are damning but are unlikely to shock anyone because China has put so much work already into rendering Taiwan irrelevant – the whole “renegade province.” schtick.

The report says:

Beijing has managed to further institutionalize and normalize its stance on Taiwan within the UN by signing secret agreements with UN bodies, restricting Taiwan’s access to the UN and its facilities, and embedding PRC [People’s Republic of China] nationals across various levels of UN staff. The UN and its specialized agencies have not made the texts of these agreements, such as that of the 2005 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the PRC and the World Health Organization, available to the public or to any entity beyond the main signatories, though leaked guidance memos provide insights into the scope of the MOU’s content.

Cross-strait relations are nuanced and complex – venture into them at your own risk. There are multiple versions of the One China policy, for example. In this case, the GMF has focused on one resolution passed in the UN in 1971, Resolution 2758.

The PRC understood then that the resolution did not contain the Taiwan conclusions it wanted. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai noted that, if Resolution 2758 passed, ‘the status of Taiwan is not yet decided.’ Beijing, through its proxies at the UN, expressed its unwillingness to join the organization if it allowed ‘two Chinas,’ ‘one China, one Taiwan,’ or ‘the status of Taiwan remaining to be determined.’ However, given that Beijing did not enjoy the same level of international influence then as it does today, it did not reject the resolution when it passed.

Zhou, who was the PRC’s first premier from 1949 until his death on January 8, 1976, was right, as he was on many things. That’s why as the GMF reports “the PRC has since worked to ‘internationalize’” its ‘One China’ Principle and to conflate it with UN Resolution 2758, a revisionist shift from the original intent of the document.

The resolution does not say anything about the sovereign status of Taiwan, but China has been trying for years to change people’s understanding of the language so they think the text says Taiwan is part of China, The New York Times points out about the report.

On December 31, Taiwan’s health officials sent an email to the World Health Organization asking for more information about reports of cases of “atypical pneumonia,” which generally refers to SARS. It was ignored, according to multiple media reports. The GMF report calls this “a damaging exclusion from global health debates during the coronavirus pandemic.”

It would be January 22 before a Chinese official admitted that the virus was human-to-human transmissible – and by then it had bolted worldwide.

The PRC’s efforts to constrain Taiwan at the UN have broader implications for international governance, as it shows a prioritization of one member state’s national interests over the global community’s – as exemplified by Taiwan’s damaging exclusion from global health debates during the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States opposes the PRC’s attempts to redefine UN Resolution 2758 and has pushed back against UN statements claiming that Taiwan is a province of the PRC, including issuing a 2007 “non-paper” asserting its position that Taiwan’s status is not yet determined.

The PRC has recently attempted to use its narrative of the “One China” Principle as embedded in UN Resolution 2758 to call into question the legitimacy of longstanding US policy on Taiwan – including the Taiwan Relations Act, which is US law.

Everyone knows that China routinely puts pressure on companies and organizations to call Taiwan by Beijing’s preferred name: Taiwan, Province of China. As The New York Times says:

China pressures private companies and nongovernment groups too. Marriott, Delta Air Lines, Qantas, Zara and Medtronic all changed their website language in recent years after Chinese officials criticized the companies for listing Taiwan as a separate country. Last year, Chinese officials at the United Nations forced a Colorado high school to change language on its website before the school’s students were allowed to visit a UN organization. The school had to add “province of China” to text about Taiwan.

A comprehensive list would be very long indeed.

Back to the UN, the problem is the pervasiveness of Beijing-planted operatives – ditto for the WHO, which dithered for fear of offending Beijing in the face of an emerging global pandemic – and a world that cannot say No to China. The GMF report says:

The PRC is increasingly threatening independent organizations with losing access to the UN if they do not adopt its preferred language regarding Taiwan. There are also instances of UN documents being revised to accommodate PRC preferences. These issues, when taken together, show a clear trend of privileging one member state’s interests over the UN’s stated commitment to partnering and sharing information with civil society.

In 1989, Shintaro Ishihara, then Minister of Transport, who would later become governor of Tokyo in 1999, co-authored The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals with Sony co-founder and chairman Akio Morita. It came at a time when bookshops were lined with works that proclaimed Japan No 1 and heralded the coming Japanese century.

It made something of a splash and led to a lot of soul-searching in the country. But by late 1991 Japan’s asset bubble had collapsed and the book was largely forgotten like all the others heralding the coming Japanese century.

That’s not to say we need an update in the form of A World that Can Say No to China: Why It’s Time to Kick the Schoolyard Bully’s Ass. The world is already looking askance at China, particularly in light of its stealth support of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As I write these words, the levers of change are already grinding away.

Other Stories
Shanghai’s Forever Lockdown
Testing, testing, and more mass testing. Photo: Wiki Commons

The Financial Times reports that at least 23 Chinese cities – a combined population of 190 million – are under full or partial lockdown. Is Shanghai, which is one of those cities, different?

It’s difficult to glean exactly what is happening on the ground in China, but Shanghai is certainly making enough noise about being locked down. There have been reports of food shortages, children being separated from parents, and city enforcers bludgeoning the pets of the infected to death. But then, it’s rapidly becoming, in the words of The New York Times, …

… to be more than just a public health challenge. It is also a political test of the zero tolerance approach at large, on which the Communist Party has staked its legitimacy.

For much of the past two years, the Chinese government has stifled most domestic criticism of its zero tolerance Covid strategy, through a mixture of censorship, arrests and success at keeping caseloads low. But in Shanghai, which has recorded more than 70,000 cases since March 1, that is proving more difficult.

The stakes are staggeringly high: it’s Xi and the CCP versus Omicron, a variant that – as case numbers continue to rise daily in fully locked-down Shanghai – doesn’t respond to die-hard suppression strategies as previous variants of Covid-19 have done. But it would appear that in the eyes of the CCP the virus simply cannot be allowed to win.

China’s leader, [President] Xi Jinping, has held up the country’s suppression of the virus as proof of the superiority of his governance model; maintaining that line will be especially important this year, when he is expected to claim an unprecedented third term.

Xi’s political ambitions aside, the chief complaint coming out of Shanghai – in increasingly desperate tones – is the difficulty of ordering meat and vegetables online, the only way of obtaining food. People are getting up at dawn to try and beat the online click rush, while others are employing more inventive ways to get orders in.

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Yes, exponentially increase your click speed with the help of a vibrator.

In the meantime, the party is not blinking. Sun Chunlan, a deputy prime minister, visited Shanghai last weekend and urged the city to deepen its suppression efforts. Bloomberg reports that:

China’s Communist Party issued a rare call imploring rank-and-file members to help contain the coronavirus in Shanghai, showing the strain the locked-down financial hub is under as its worst outbreak to date spreads.

‘We must dare to draw our swords and fight against all kinds of behaviors that interfere with and undermine the overall situation of the fight against the epidemic,’ the top party branch in Shanghai wrote to members late Wednesday, the same day the number of new cases in the city rose to more than 19,900.

Such old-fashioned collectivized zeal makes lone cries of desperation on the streets of Shanghai, as in the video below, seem all the more tragic.

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Shanghai Needs Food, So May the Rest of China
Chinese old-school farming. Photo: John Coppi / CSIRO

Shanghai residents are struggling to get food on a daily basis, but as the Financial Times reports China, in general, could find itself facing food shortages due to the country’s zero Covid policy.

China’s strict Covid lockdowns are exacerbating serious shortages of fertilizer, labor and seeds, just as many of the country’s biggest agricultural provinces prepare for their crucial spring planting season.

According to official data, as many as a third of farmers in northeastern Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces have insufficient agricultural inputs after authorities sealed off villages to fight the pandemic. The three provinces account for more than 20% of China’s grain production.

China is facing a litany of food woes. An advisor to the central government, speaking anonymously, told the FT that China would suffer food shortages if adjustments weren’t made to the hardline zero Covid policy.

The spring planting problems come as the war in Ukraine has stopped shipments of corn, an important livestock feed, to China. Ukraine has been shipping corn to China since 2013 and became its top overseas supplier two years later, according to data from the International Trade Centre.

Fertilizer factories are struggling. An executive at Genliduo, a leading fertilizer producer in Hebei province, said his firm was having ‘lots of difficulty’ shipping to customers and securing raw materials. The executive added that the problem was industry-wide and many smaller producers had suspended operations.

It’s a uniquely Chinese approach – putting elimination of a virus ahead of food security, some say politics ahead of science. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best policy for China.

Taiwan Abandons Zero Covid Policy

As Taiwan reported a new high of 384 domestic cases in a single day, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced that the democratic island was “moving away” from its zero-Covid policy and would instead focus on the most severe infections while learning to live with the coronavirus virus, the AFP news agency reported.

Asked at a parliamentary session on Thursday if Taiwan was in a ‘transitional phase’ from pursuing zero cases to living with the virus, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung replied: ‘Yes, you can say so.’

‘We will not stop our journey towards opening up, this is our direction but we will maintain effective management. The main goal now is harm mitigation,’ he said.

The move leaves China as the only country still cleaving to a policy of absolute suppression in the war against Covid, although Taiwan health officials also emphasized that the latest move was not a free ticket for Covid-19 to ravage Taiwan.

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Reaction to Chinese Military Expansion Gathers Pace
Hopefully not a race to war, but a race to be ready for it. Photo: Wiki Commons

It’s not quite “unleash the dogs of war,” but what the head of US Strategic Command calls China’s “breathtaking expansion” of its strategic and nuclear arsenal, Bloomberg reported. The possible test of two hypersonic missiles last year and all the other signs show that China is transforming into a mighty military power.

The remarks have lit a fire under more than the usual China hawks.

According to The Wall Street Journal opinion pages, the US marines are reforming in preparation for a conflict with China. Also, “the US, the United Kingdom and Australia will co-operate on developing hypersonic weapons,” by “expanding a trilateral security pact designed to help Washington and its allies counter China’s rapid military expansion,” reports the Financial Times.

US President Joe Biden said in a statement with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the allies would enhance co-operation in several areas, including hypersonic weapons as part of their commitment to ‘a free and open Indo-Pacific.’

‘We also committed today to commence new trilateral co-operation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen co-operation on defense innovation,’ the three leaders said in a statement.

On the marines front, the WSJ op-ed writer Tom Rogan says that Marine Corps Commandant General David H Berger has a dramatic reform program that will make it more combat ready for the “primary enemy of the US,” China. Describing the general’s Force Design 2030 reforms as “near revolutionary,” Rogan writes:

Under his plan, the Marine Corps would dramatically shrink its cannon artillery and helicopter forces while eliminating its tank forces. Several infantry battalions and their supporting elements would be cut. General Berger admits these reforms carry risk and have sparked controversy within the Marine Corps. But the Marines have finite resources, which are organized around maintaining democratic international order and defeating the largest threat to America [China].

Meanwhile, reports Bloomberg, Admiral Charles Richard wrote in prepared testimony posted on the website of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee that during China’s test the …

… hypersonic vehicle flew 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) for more than 100 minutes … It was ‘the greatest distance and longest flight time of any land attack weapon system of any nation to date.’

Both China and Russia have the capability to ‘unilaterally escalate a conflict to any level of violence, in any domain, worldwide, with any instrument of national power, and at any time,’ Richard said. The US armed forces no longer have ‘the luxury of assuming the risk is always low, particularly during a crisis,’ he added.

The answer? Get cracking and build our own – fast.

None of this is out of the blue or revelatory, but agendas are becoming overt now and the potential for clashes rises as the race for arms accelerates.

Covid-hit Pelosi Becomes Highest-Ranking US Official to Cancel Taiwan Trip

The last time a sitting US Speaker of the House went to Taiwan was Newt Gingrich, who visited Lee Teng-hui 25 years ago. That was controversial. Pelosi’s visit would have been even more so. China was already gearing up to unleash its steaming indignation on the perfidious US and pro-separatist forces on Taiwan.

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In a Press release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had tested positive for Covid-19 but was asymptomatic. Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said today at a regular press briefing in Beijing that Pelosi should “not postpone the visit but cancel it,” reports Bloomberg.

China Summit Disappoints EU

Comments began to leak this week from EU officialdom about the April 1 EU-China Summit. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, called it a “dialogue of the deaf,” the South China Morning Post reports. Brussels’ top diplomat said that China’s top leaders had wanted to focus on “the positive things.”

‘China wanted to set aside our differences on Ukraine, they didn’t want to talk about Ukraine. They didn’t want to talk about human rights and other stuff and instead focus on positive things,’ Borrell said during a fiery debate on China in Strasbourg, France.

‘This was not exactly a dialogue, maybe a dialogue of the deaf … we could not talk about Ukraine a lot, and we did not agree on anything else.’

The SCMP correspondent followed up his report with a tweet:

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If the ever-cautious EU turns overtly anti-China, or even if this is the first step in that direction, it will be a major indication that Beijing’s explicit alignment with Russia ahead of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may have sweeping repercussions that are not in China’s interests.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday announced she would not be running for reelection. She oversaw the transformation of Hong Kong into a mainland city. She also stood back as the basic freedoms that defined Hong Kong under “one country, two systems” were snuffed out by Beijing. John Lee, Hong Kong’s No 2 official, is likely to succeed her, but only if he proves “he can win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong’s people” stated a South China Morning Post editorial, without even a hint of irony.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.