China and Taiwan – Why do we have full normal diplomatic relations with a brutal regime but not with a democratic country?

Spoiler: There are two China. One of the countries is a brutal communist regime. Communist China oppresses its own people, kidnaps other countries’ citizens, occupies Tibet, annexes islands in the South China Sea, ignores international law, uses its firms to spy for the state, pushes indebted countries to support its foreign policies, abuses its position in the UN, tries to cover-up its denial about Covid-19 and attacks those who expose it. 

The other country is democratic. Its citizens not only enjoy prosperity but also civil rights. Taiwan is under constant attack from communist China. Communist China is recognised by most countries and have formal diplomatic relations with them. Taiwan is only recognised by a few countries. This is hypocrisy and it is time to do something about it. 

China and Taiwan received a lot of attention during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Chinese regime initially put the lid on the outbreak. This behaviour has meant that the pandemic has had much larger consequences than if China had been transparent and alerted the WHO. The Taiwanese government and authorities acted immediately upon acquired information about the transmission of Covid-19 inside of China. Their warnings to the WHO were however neglected. This is a consequence of China’s aggressive policy which ultimately aims at occupying Taiwan and integrate it with the rest of the dictatorship.

China and Taiwan have de facto been separate countries since 1949. From the beginning, living standards and health conditions developed much better in Taiwan than in China. Chinese development did not accelerate until after Mao’s death which allowed the new regime to introduce market economy reforms. The Tiananmen Square Massacre made it clear for the world that the communist regime was not interested in human rights in any other way than crushing them with tanks, guns, and concentration camps.

Taiwan has developed into a democratic market economy where human rights are respected. China have introduced market economy reforms but remains a brutal dictatorship.

 

Taiwan was a dictatorship during Chiang Kai-Shek’s reign. He introduced Martial law already in the beginning of Taiwan’s existence in 1949. It was not lifted until 1987 and was a world record until Assad overtook it in 2011. Market economy reforms were introduced in Taiwan already in the 1950´s but it took until the 1980’s for democratic reforms to materialise. Taiwan is a democratic country since the mid 1990´s and is classified as a Liberal democracy by the Varieties of Democracy Project, led by the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg.

Taiwanese GDP per capita began to accelerate already in the 1950’s. Like his idol Stalin, mass murderer Mao knew a lot about intriguing and killing opponents but was clueless when it came to economics. As I shown in this post, his experiments cost the Chinese people tens of millions of lives. It was not until after his death, when economic reforms were implemented that Chinese living standards picked up. But the oppressing regime did not introduce and political reforms, c.f. Figure 1.

Figure 1. Prosperity (top) and democracy (bottom) in China and Taiwan.

Source: GDP per capita Penn World Table version 9.1 https://www.rug.nl/ggdc/productivity/pwt/ and Maddison  Project Database 2018 https://www.rug.nl/ggdc/historicaldevelopment/maddison/releases/maddison-project-database-2018 Note: All series are shown as logs of an index, which equals 1.0 at 1950 so the series start at zero. Since the vertical axis is in log units, the slopes of the series are the rates of growth. An increase of 0.1 is a growth of 100*(exp(0.1)-1). Liberal democracy index. V-Dem https://www.v-dem.net/en/ Note: Liberal democracy; The liberal principle of democracy emphasizes the importance of protecting individual and minority rights against the tyranny of the state and the tyranny of the majority. The liberal model takes a ”negative” view of political power insofar as it judges the quality of democracy by the limits placed on government. Range 0 to 1. The closer to 1, the more democratic is the country in question. 

 

As shown in this post , the Chinese economy is much more efficient after Mao’s death but still lagging behind the Taiwanese economy.

 

Mao’s death made China richer, but it is still a brutal dictatorship which uses its economic resources to flex its muscles against other countries and in international organisations.

 

While Taiwanese engagement in international relations follow diplomatic rules and respect for international law, China uses foreign policy to increase its influence and aims at imposing the regime’s values on other countries.

China has actively tried to increase its influence in United Nations. Chinese officials occupy or control nearly a third of the 15 specialised UN agencies. Apart from using its veto to block resolutions about countries like Syria, Venezuela, and Zimba,

China works hard against criticism of its own violations of human rights. When Sweden and 21 other countries raised the situation for the Uighurs in Xinjiang before the UNHCR, China managed to get 37 dictatorships, including Cuba and North Korea, to sign a letter praising the concentration camps in Xinjian as triumphs for human rights. If satire was not already dead, that letter killed it for good.

China often retaliates when criticised. Australia found themselves in a trade war with China following Australian justified requests for inquiries about how China managed the outbreak of Covid-19. And the Chinese communist regime’s contempt of human rights has also caused diplomatic relations with Sweden to deteriorate.

The Swedish publisher Gua Minhai was kidnapped by Chinese police in Thailand. His case is well described by his daughter here who campaigns for his release. As if the kidnapping of a Swedish citizen wasn’t bad enough, the communist regime has attacked Swedish media, well-known authors, the Swedish branch of the international organisation for free speech, and members of the Swedish government who awarded Gua Minhai this year’s Tucholsky prize.

Another cause of concern is the close relationship between the Chinese intelligence services and Chinese firms. According to Chinese laws, Chinese firms are obliged to cooperate with the Chinese intelligence services when so required which is why for example Huawei has become under scrutiny not only in USA but in many other countries.

And should we use equipment from the same producer who also supplies the prison camps where around a million members of the Uighur population is confined?

The extent of the Chinese oppression of the Uighur minority is well documented. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is just one independent organisation exposing the brutal Chinese regime’s behaviour. You can also read about it here, here, here, and here.

The Tiananmen Square Massacre showed that demanding freedom and democracy is associated with a high risk of getting killed in China. Even though Mao’s death meant the fewer people were killed for political reasons, Chinese demonstrators, protestors, and other critics still face a high risk of being subject to torture, c.f. Figure 2.

Figure 2. Freedom from political killings (top) and freedom from torture (bottom) in China and Taiwan

Source: V-Dem https://www.v-dem.net/en/Note:Freedom from political killings. The indicator ranges from 0 to 4, where 0 indicates that torture is practised systematically by the regime and 4 that there is no torture. Freedom from torture. The indicator ranges from 0 to 4, where 0 indicates that political killings are practised systematically by the regime and 4 that there are no political killings.

 

The increased killings and torture of Chinese democracy activists following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 is clearly visible in the graphs above.

 

When China put the lid on the outbreak of Covid-19, Taiwanese authorities warned WHO but were dismissed.

 

The Chinese regime’s failed cover-up of the outbreak of Covid-19 shows what a terrible mistake it was for United Nations to recognise Communist China as the sole government of China. This has meant that Taiwan is not represented in crucial UN organs such as the WHO. Even worse, China’s aggressive policy made the WHO to ignore warnings from Taiwan about the Covid-19 outbreak in China, see here. The Chinese influence on the WHO and relationships between the head of the WHO and Chinese officials came into questions after this interview and other incidents.

 

And China’s aggressions against Taiwan come in many shapes.

 

Traditionally, China has used military force as missile tests, its navy to bully Taiwan. Taiwan is not the only country facing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea which the communist regime regards as its own despite the rulings of an international arbitration court. The court’s ruling made it clear that China’s “historical” claim over the entire area is without basis. Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam are more involved in that conflict.

But Taiwan remains as the main target for China’s aggression. As I showed in this post China often uses the Internet and social media to disseminate false information targeting both domestic and foreign audiences. Taiwan on the other hand, being is a frequent target for false information from abroad, never, or almost never a disseminates false information to anyone.

In a post a few days ago, I had a look at Chinese dissemination of false information at home and abroad and foreign governments’ dissemination of false information targeting Taiwan. I also compared Chinese and Taiwanese censorship of the Internet.

As the upper panel shows, Chinese government and party dissemination of false information both at home and abroad closely follows the extent of foreign dissemination of false information targeting Taiwan. Even though Taiwan is a frequent target for dissemination of false information from foreign governments, the Taiwanes Internet is not filtered. The Chinese regime, for which the dissemination of false information is part of the foreign policy toolbox, routinely uses censorship to prevent its people from accessing unbiased information from abroad, c.f. Figure 3.

Figure 3. China and Taiwan as origins and destinations of false information (top) and Chinese and Taiwanese government Internet filtering (bottom).

Source: V-Dem https://www.v-dem.net/en/ Note: Upper panel. The vertical axis shows Government/party dissemination of false information abroad and Foreign governments dissemination of false information. The first indicator measures how often the government, strongly associated political parties and its agents use social media to disseminate misleading viewpoints or false information to influence citizens at home and in other countries. Range 0 to 4 where 0 indicates extremely often and 4 never or almost never.  The second indicator measures how routinely foreign governments and their agents use social media to disseminate misleading viewpoints or false information to influence domestic politics in a country. Range 0 to 4 where 0 indicates extremely often and 4 never or almost never. Note: Lower panel. The vertical axis shows how frequently governments censor political information (text, audio, images, or video) on the Internet by filtering (blocking access to certain websites)? Range 0 to 4 where 0 indicates extremely often and 4 never or almost never.

 

So, when the Chinese bully other countries, oppress its own people, kidnap other countries’ citizens, threaten our politicians, use trade wars as political, uses the Internet as a weapon, occupies Tibet, annexes islands in the ocean, we just stand by and raise our concerns. The communist regime does not care. It finds new friends among other dictatorships and emerging countries which owe China money, see here.

But there is one thing we can do and show that we do not anymore accept the Communist regime’s behaviour. We can tell our political representatives and governments that to Recognise Taiwan and establish full formal diplomatic relations with her!

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