China Has Overplayed the Outrage Card
By: Chris Horton
09 November 2021
Where the word Beijing once conjured the image of a confident, rising power, today it represents a frowning, finger-pointing, never-erring crank, its constant stream of vitriol diminishing the effectiveness of Chinese anger. One of the implications of this hyperinflation of hurt feelings has been the effective removal of the deterrent against democracies’ improving their unofficial relations with Taiwan. After all, if most moves are likely to anger Beijing, why hold back from any of them?
The United States has led the way in expanding ties with Taiwan while grappling with an increasingly prickly China. This began under the Trump administration, and has continued under Joe Biden, who in his first year in office has twice said that the U.S. is committed to defending Taiwan from Chinese attack. (For the past four decades, the U.S. has had an unofficial policy of not publicly saying how it would respond to a China-Taiwan conflict, in the hope of not emboldening either side to start one.)
Similar dynamics are changing the minds of leaders elsewhere in the world. Europe offers a prime example of how Beijing’s belligerence has worked against its own diplomatic goals while inadvertently boosting Taiwan’s international profile.
Primarily focused on economic matters, Brussels had served as a reliable counterweight to Washington regarding China policy; Europe was typically less willing to view Beijing as a strategic rival or threat. That has changed. This spring, after China pushed back against European Union criticism of human-rights violations in Xinjiang by slapping sanctions on EU entities and individuals, including five members of the European Parliament, Brussels put a bilateral investment agreement with China on hold.
Politicians on the continent are also showing greater willingness to meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. Last week, Raphaël Glucksmann, one of those hit with Beijing’s sanctions, visited Taipei as part of a delegation of EU parliamentarians, arriving just weeks after he and his colleagues voted to improve ties with Taiwan and lay the groundwork for a bilateral investment agreement. (Prior to boarding his flight to Taiwan, Glucksmann tweeted an airport selfie, commenting in French: “Neither threats nor sanctions will intimidate me. Never. And I will continue, always, to stand with those who fight for democracy and human rights. So there you have it: I’m going to Taiwan.”)