Last week, a team of Taiwanese freedivers who were competing in the Individual Depth Freediving World Championship in Cyprus had a nasty surprise when the organizers, the International Association for the Development of Apnea, without warning, removed the team’s national flag from a live feed of the event, leaving a blank space in its place. Later, the organizers issued a formal apology to Taiwan, saying that the stream had been cut off by Chinese authorities.
The “Chinese model” of combating the COVID-19 pandemic has involved using the authoritarian methods of a powerful state to impose and enforce lockdowns. China has been publicizing its pandemic-control achievements around the world, while engaging in dollar diplomacy and thereby demonstrating its “sharp power” on the international stage.
Meanwhile, in addition to making nonstop military threats against Taiwan, China has since February been repressing the nation’s agricultural sector, imposing bans without warning, while not replying to inquiries.
These actions are intended to cause misunderstandings and disagreements between Taiwanese officials and farmers, while also undermining farmers’ rights and morale. As well as having a transparent political purpose, these bans are a clear example of the cross-strait cognitive warfare that China has been working hard to develop, and how Beijing is employing it in practice.
Based on the US armed forces’ experience and observation of actual combat, Washington divides the process by which war develops into phases, namely “shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize.”
Before engaging in actual warfare, armed forces must “shape” the conditions for operations in the theater of war by using political, economic, diplomatic and military means to create a favorable situation in advance.
Observing China’s recent actions from this point of view, Taiwanese must not ignore what Beijing is doing just because there is no actual fighting going on — they must cautiously face up to its serious implications.
Sun Tzu’s (孫子) The Art of War says that strategic planning and diplomacy are better methods for defeating an enemy than fighting bloody battles. After China suppressed Taiwan’s national flag at the freediving competition, 10 countries’ teams expressed their support for the nation by asking for their own national flags to also be removed from the livestream.
This gesture of solidarity illustrates how Taiwan’s sovereignty has over the past few years gained greater support and recognition around the world, so Taiwanese should not fall into China’s trap by belittling their country and conceding Taiwan’s national sovereignty.
Hou Hsin-tien is a student at National Defense University’s War College.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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