China’s Bullying of Taiwan Gets Ugly

China is growing wealthier and older. The elderly now make up nearly 10 percent of its population, and incomes have been rising steadily for four decades. But China isn’t mellowing.

Consider that perennial thorn in Beijing’s side: Taiwan. The very existence of a democratic, free market Chinese territory just off the coast is an affront to Beijing. It gives the lie to propagandistic and self-serving notion that Chinese people are somehow “unsuited” to democratic governance.

Political events that have occurred simultaneously in China and Taiwan have increased what are often euphemistically referred to as “tensions” between the two countries. What we’re really seeing is Chinese bullying.

In 2016, Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen as president. Ms. Tsai was the standard bearer for the DPP, the party that has traditionally supported Taiwanese independence from the mainland—a big no-no in Beijing, which still adheres, as a form of quasi-religious faith, to the “one China policy.” (Tsai, whatever her party’s traditional stance, is adamant that she simply supports the status quo, by the way.) She quickly found an adversary in Xi Jinping, who’d been elevated to the presidency in Beijing in 2013 and who was a much more hawkish leader than his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

The “tensions” began, effectively, with an economic blockade of Taiwan. After Tsai’s election, Chinese tour groups—a leading source of income to the country—were discouraged (code for “banned”) from visiting Taiwan. This hammered a key industry for the island—though, as I discovered on my most recent trip there, it did have the happy effect of making the museums enjoyably empty.

At the same time, Beijing embarked on a plot to banish Taiwan from international conferences. It kept the country out of the ICAO summit on aviation safety, and just this month, for the second year in a row, made sure that the island could not attend the World Health Organization summit even as a mere observer, as it has in the past. Diseases may be without borders—and it’s obvious that any epidemic in Taiwan would have an impact on the Mainland, or vice versa—but, from Xi’s perspective, ideology trumps all. Perhaps most devious is a plan to suck up Taiwanese talent—and turn them against their native land. Beijing recently unveiled 31 incentives to young Taiwanese, offering them a bevy of economic carrots to move to the mainland such as tax breaks. It’s an an obvious bid to bleed its rival of talent. Oh, and China also has been conducting military encirclement drills around the island.

China’s antagonism has spilled over into the private sector as well. This makes sense, as the Communist regime in Beijing does not recognize a real split between public and private, after all. And foreign businesses, ever more reliant on China’s economic might, have been quick to kowtow.

Earlier this year, Marriott’s website and apps were blocked in China for a week after the hotelier listed Taiwan and Tibet as separate countries on its website. Before that, the company had fired an hourly worker after he liked a tweet calling for Tibetan independence. Delta Air Lines also listed Taiwan as a country on its website, drawing ire from Beijing; it quickly fixed the “error.” (The conspiracy-minded may also note that the carrier recently stopped serving Taipei, to which it had flown for decades.) And just this week, the clothing company Gap apologized and withdrew a shirt that featured a map of China—sans Taiwan. The shirt, by the way, was only on sale in Canada.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Beijing spoke often of its “peaceful rise.” In the Xi Jinping era, that bit of propaganda has been retired. Give the regime credit for honesty: the new China looks ever more assertive, willing to punish not only the democratic choices made by foreign nations, but even the sartorial decisions of foreigners.

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