Aug 24, 2022 - World

International show of support for Taiwan grows

Illustration of hands holding up the Taiwanese sun flag icon, the Blue Sky with a White Sun.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some countries are showing stronger support for Taiwan in response to China's growing pressure on the self-governing island.

Why it matters: Beijing's show of force against Taiwan in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit shocked many democratic governments and seems to have backfired — at least for now — by pushing some countries closer to the island.

What's happening: The U.S. announced last week that it would hold trade talks with Taiwan in the fall, a major step toward a bilateral trade deal that proponents for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties have long advocated.

  • A congressional delegation led by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey followed closely on Pelosi's heels, and a third group of U.S. officials, led by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), is visiting the island this week.
  • Other countries are offering public support as well after Pelosi's visit. A Japanese parliamentary delegation is expected to visit Taiwan this week, Danish lawmakers are planning a visit in October, and a group of Canadian lawmakers is expected sometime in the fall.

The backstory: The Chinese government claims Taiwan as its sovereign territory, though the island has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party.

  • Over the past several decades, China has forced Taiwan out of most international organizations and persuaded most countries to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, though many governments still maintain unofficial ties with the island and send occasional delegations.

The big picture: The Chinese government's massive military drills in response to Pelosi's visit, and the additional set of drills it announced ahead of Markey's visit, suggest that Beijing is trying to establish a new normal of more restricted international access to Taiwan, analysts say.

  • "Military drills that simulate actual battles have become the new normal. China can now decide whether a future exercise will seamlessly be turned into actual combat," Chinese commentator Chen Feng wrote for Guancha, a nationalist Chinese website.

Yes, but: China's pressure on foreign governments to limit ties with Taiwan has sometimes made those ties stronger instead, most recently in the case of Lithuania.

  • After Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital city Vilnius last year, China began rejecting imports made with Lithuanian components, causing some Western suppliers to avoid Lithuanian-made goods in the supply chains.
  • But "China’s actions have not pushed Lithuania away from Taiwan, but had the opposite effect," researchers with the Alliance for Securing Democracy wrote in a recent report. "The controversy has brought both parties closer and serves as a catalyst for deeper cooperation in a multitude of areas."
  • Case in point: Lithuania also just announced its first representative to Taiwan.

Between the lines: Though Beijing's isolation of Taiwan worked for decades, China's hardline authoritarian turn under Chinese president Xi Jinping — and Russia's invasion of Ukraine — has renewed a sense of solidarity among democratic nations.

  • Leaders in some democratic nations believe that Taiwan, as a healthy democracy surviving under China's shadow, can no longer be overlooked.
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