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Two military destroyers, one further off on the horizon.
In this photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense, a Taiwanese guided missile destroyer, left, monitors a Chinese guided missile destroyer right, near Taiwan in May 2024 during the inauguration of Taiwan’s newly elected president. (Taiwan Ministry of National Defense via AP)

China’s war games near Taiwan threaten international peace and security

Taiwan recently saw yet another peaceful transition of power with the inauguration of President Lai Ching-Te, who was elected to office in January.

In his inaugural speech, Lai called on neighbouring China to cease its acts of intimidation and to “choose dialogue over confrontation.”

China responded by launching a simulated blockade of Taiwan. The People’s Liberation Army released images boasting its ability to rain missiles on one of the most densely populated countries in the world as “strong punishment.”

Democracy under threat

Beijing’s standard reaction to the democratic voting rights of 24 million people is to threaten to “break skulls and let blood flow.” For China, Taiwan as a renegade province that must “return to the embrace of the motherland” despite the fact China does not have any authority over Taiwan.

An Asian man in a blue suit and purple tie holds his hands up as he speaks behind a bank of brightly coloured flowers.
Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te delivers an acceptance speech during his inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan, in May 2024. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

In recent years, China has been trying to use its diplomatic clout and influence at the United Nations to rewrite history and legitimize its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

While Taiwan ranks highly on the Human Freedom Index (just one spot ahead of Canada), China is a techno-authoritarian state that has regressed even further under the reign of Xi Jinping.

Millions of Uyghur Muslims remain in re-education and forced labour camps, while Tibetans are forced to “Sinicize” and lose their cultural and religious heritage.

Reaching beyond borders

Political dissidents, journalists and foreign nationals are not immune from intimidation or imprisonment.

In what has been termed transnational oppression, aided through Chinese so-called police stations operating with impunity overseas, the Chinese government targets and threatens Chinese nationals and critics of China wherever they are.

Read more: New commission sheds light on how diaspora communities are impacted by foreign interference

Many governments, including Canada’s, caution against travel to China and Hong Kong due to the “risk of arbitrary enforcement” of laws prohibiting activities or speech critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s censorship, surveillance and arbitrary arrests are widespread, and such tactics and technologies are alarmingly being exported worldwide.

While the Chinese government condemns the forced divestment of TikTok, the app — together with Facebook, WhatsApp and Google — are all banned within the great firewall of China.

A man in a dark T-shirt takes photos of large colourful blow-up figures outside a stadium.
A man uses his mobile phone to take pictures outside Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium ahead of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, in September 2023. Many popular social media platforms, including TikTok, are banned in China. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

War games

When former United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022, China conducted similar war games.

Read more: Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan causes an ongoing Chinese tantrum in the Taiwan Strait

Incursions by Chinese warships and fighters into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone are increasing in frequency. In addition, short of mounting an invasion, China is increasingly testing the waters by deploying its maritime militia to swarm islands under Taiwan’s control.

A contrail from a military jet in a blue sky with a half-moon visible.
A military plane flies above the Taiwan Strait at the closest point in mainland China to the island of Taiwan in southeastern China’s Fujian province in August 2022, three days after Nancy Pelosi’s visit. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Known as “grey-zone” tactics, they fall short of the use of force, which is prohibited under international law. Also referred to as “salami slicing,” grey-zone tactics that are not strictly attacks make it hard for others to respond without potentially escalating a situation to a conflict.

But not responding to threats of force or military intimidation risks normalizing such aggressive behaviour and emboldening China to further destabilize international peace and stability.

Such acts of harassment and threats can happen not just on Earth but in cyberspace and outer space, all of which can have severe repercussions on civilian life and infrastructure.

Pattern of reckless behaviour

Closely allying with Russia, and actively supplying weapons to sustain its war in Ukraine, China has not concealed its desire to reshape the world order.

Taiwan is not alone suffering China’s increasingly brazen naval and aerial military operations. Canadian and Australian aircraft enforcing United Nations sanctions against North Korea have also been repeatedly harassed on international waters, where states supposedly enjoy the freedom of navigation.

Meanwhile, China is continuously engaged in violent border clashes with India, is challenging the sovereignty of islands that belong to Japan and militarizing islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Deliberate jamming of navigation and emergency distress signals in the Asia-Pacific, which threatens the safety of international aviation, has also been attributed to China.

A plane flies over a hilly island.
A Japanese maritime defence plane flies over disputed islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Why Taiwan matters

Tech executives around the world were recently in Taiwan to talk about the future of AI and innovative technologies. With Taiwan’s prowess in computing technologies and chip production, Jensen Huang — the Taiwanese-born NVIDIA CEO — described his homeland as “the unsung hero, a steadfast pillar of the world.”

But Taiwan is also on the front lines of an increasingly aggressive and assertive China. On a daily basis, Taiwan experiences the highest rate of cyberattacks in the world originating from China, all aimed at disrupting government services and sowing social distrust.

Taiwan has much to share with the world on how to enhance citizen participation in the digital age, counter foreign influence and dispel misinformation and disinformation that undermine trust in democratic institutions and processes.

The latest war games surrounding Taiwan are just another reminder of the various ways China tries to undermine liberal democracies and international peace and security. Today it may be a simulated attack. But the world must stand together and prevent it ever becoming reality.

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