Taiwan’s international profile rose significantly in 2021, as shown by a sensationalist cover page from The Economist labelling it ‘the most dangerous place on earth’ due to increasing Chinese pressure. The tilting of the cross-Strait balance in Beijing’s favour led to reassessments of when China could invade Taiwan and whether the United States and its allies could credibly deter it from doing so.
Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at Friday’s press conference after convenience chain store 7-Eleven was fined for displaying an incorrect and incomplete Chinese map that labeled the island of Taiwan as “an independent country.”
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen had a New Year message for China on Saturday: military conflict is not the answer, but Beijing responded with a stern warning that if Taiwan crossed any red line it would lead to “profound catastrophe”.
Taiwan is living in an unprecedented time. At the end of 2020, it was still one of the few places in the world not ravaged by COVID-19. President Tsai Ing-wen’s government enjoyed broad support, but people were nervous about the transition of power in the United States from former US president Donald Trump to Joe Biden and how the transition could impact Taiwan.
The year 2021 began with triumphal statements from Chinese leaders about “time and momentum” working in China’s favor. The year ends with American power in Asia on the rise and China’s power falling, according to the Asia Power Index, an annual data-driven assessment of relative power of states in the Indo-Pacific conducted by the Lowy Institute.
After two decades of neglect, Washington is finally taking the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) threat of force against Taiwan seriously. While military re-posturing to stop China from taking Taiwan is a positive development, most of the ideas for a stronger deterrent are operational and tactical in nature when political and strategic adjustments are needed. The PRC made the political decision to abrogate its commitment under the One China Policy by refusing to renounce the use of force. It regularly uses its military to bend Taipei to its will. This deserves a strategic response: specifically, an elevation of the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship.
The intense situation in the Taiwan Straits in 2021 brought the anxiety of war among international media and observers, but for Chinese from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, discussions over “reunification” have increased, and apart from the concern of a military conflict, optimism that reunification could be realized soon is also increasing.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on the island of Taiwan has been criticized for selling the interests of the people of Taiwan out in exchange for US support of its secessionist political pursuit, after the DPP manipulated a so-called referendum on the island to reject four proposals covering energy and trade.