China’s ‘totalitarianism’ poses threat to entire world, Taiwan official says

The ‘new era’ in China places Taiwan on the front lines of the global battle between authoritarianism and democracy, says deputy minister

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With Xi Jinping likely to be re-elected to a third term as China’s leader days from now, a top Taiwanese official warned the country’s growing “totalitarianism” imperils the entire world.

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Xi has increasingly gathered power around himself — a departure from  recent predecessors — and promoted an aggressive nationalism, both leading to aggressive foreign policy, said Chiu Chui-Cheng, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.

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The “new era” in China places Taiwan on the front lines of the global battle between authoritarianism and democracy, he told an international group of journalists on Wednesday.

But the island is in a unique position as a thriving, ethnic-Chinese democracy to influence similar people living under one-party rule on the mainland, said Chiu.

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“China’s totalitarianism now is posing unprecedented threats to the free and democratic countries of the world,” he said. “I believe this extreme development … poses a great threat to the rule-based order.”

The frank assessment from an official responsible for managing relations with Beijing comes as tensions in the region rise, with China ramping up military pressure and President Joe Biden pledging the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defence if it’s attacked.

Xi is expected to be granted a third term at the head of China’s government after the Chinese Communist Party opens its 20th national congress on Oct. 16.

Chiu stressed that Taiwan remains committed to relations with Beijing based on “mutual respect, dignity and equality.” There have been contacts between lower-level officials, resulting in 21 bilateral agreements, he said.

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But leaders at the highest level have not met in recent years because of China’s precondition that Taiwan agree to unification under the governance of the People’s Republic, said Chiu.

The Taiwanese government argues the island has never belonged to the PRC.

It formed part of China’s Qing dynasty for about 200 years in the 1700s and 1800s, before Japan took it over as a colony. With Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, the allies handed Taiwan and other parts of China formerly occupied by the Japanese to the Nationalist party government. The nationalists — also known as the Kuomintang — then fled to Taiwan when they lost the Chinese civil war to Communist forces.

Democratic Taiwan now considers itself a sovereign country and will not accept being part of the PRC under one-party rule, Chiu said.

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Xi has repeatedly spoken about the importance of “peaceful reunification” of the territories, but has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan into the fold. Meanwhile, Chinese military planes have repeatedly flown into Taiwan’s “air-defence zone” in recent months. And China surrounded the island with warships and fired missiles overhead to express its anger at an August visit by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cross-strait relations have entered a new era at a critical moment

Chiu Chui-Cheng

“Cross-strait relations have entered a new era at a critical moment,” Chiu said.

Xi has moved toward one-man rule from the more collegial decision-making of previous leaders, which makes him more apt to take risks that endanger world stability, he charged.

And Xi is promoting nationalism in a way that’s also unprecedented in recent decades, leading to a crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, aggressive militarism in the South China Sea and subjugation of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjian region, said the official.

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It’s important for the international community to support Taiwan given its critical role in countering the growing power of mainland China, Chiu said.

“In the past, Taiwan was on the front line facing China. Now we are on the front line in the confrontation between authoritarianism and democracies,” he said. “(But) Taiwan democracy is different from Western democracy…. (It) can be used to encourage Chinese people to seek a better life, freedom and democracy.”

As well as overt military and rhetorical threats, Beijing has been waging “cognitive warfare” against Taiwan, seeding disinformation online designed to turn the Taiwanese against their elected government, he said.

As an example, Chiu pointed to posts that suggested Taiwan was depriving its citizens of COVID-19 shots, as the government struggled earlier to procure vaccines in the face of obstruction from Beijing. Yet, he argued, it is China that has deprived its people, given that the government is using only Chinese-made vaccines and will not acquire more-effective MRNA-based products from foreign manufacturers.

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Early in the pandemic, disinformation on the internet suggested erroneously that a Taiwan toilet-paper shortage was a result of the government using paper to make masks, which became an attack on the supposed chaos democracy creates, said Audrey Tang, head of Taiwan’s new ministry of digital affairs.

But the ministry tries to respond within a couple of hours of such falsehoods spreading online, setting the record straight using humour and other methods designed to spread widely, she told the international media group Wednesday.

“We strive to make our messages memetically viral, so they reach more people than the original piece of disinformation.”

The National Post is in Taiwan at the invitation and with the support of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has no input on the coverage.

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