The compulsive bully in China keeps finding novel ways to harass its neighbours and unless State-sponsored terrorism. But a small island nation, Taiwan, has given the paper dragon a bloody nose. Of late, China has been using a new type of weapon against Taiwan- illegal sand dredgers. China’s sand-dredging ships frequently encroach upon Taiwanese waters near the Matsu Islands in a desperate bid to tie down Taiwan’s military forces, apart from endangering the livelihoods of Matsu residents. Yet, Taiwan which has recently received extensive support from former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and sitting Australian PM Scott Morrison has hit back at China.
Wen Lii, Director of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), tweeted, “Several illegal Chinese sand dredgers entered Matsu’s “Restricted Waters” (<6km), on SW side of Nangan Island, around 5pm, May 2. Taiwanese coast guard vessels drove out the illegal ships. CGA also expelled a loitering Chinese cargo ship near NW side of Nangan.”
Several illegal Chinese sand dredgers entered Matsu's "Restricted Waters" (<6km), on SW side of Nangan Island, around 5pm, May 2. Taiwanese coast guard vessels drove out the illegal ships. CGA also expelled a loitering Chinese cargo ship near NW side of Nangan. #KeepOut pic.twitter.com/k15hxgAirv
— Wen Lii 李問 (@wen1949) May 2, 2021
The latest Chinese incursion was a part of a series of such provocations by illegal Chinese sand dredgers, aimed at chipping away Taiwan’s sovereignty. Yet, Taiwan has been able to keep China in check. It has also sent a loud and clear message to Beijing- illegal Chinese vessels won’t be allowed to bully Taiwan and the island nation reserves the right to retaliate if provoked by illegal Chinese actions near the Matsu island.
But what has really enabled Taiwan to strike back at China and drive out the Chinese-dredging ships? Well, Taiwan may be a small island nation but the support that it has found in Canberra and Tokyo act as definite force multipliers. These two Indo-Pacific powers are offering immunity to Taiwan against the likelihood of any Chinese military aggression, which allows Taipei to act fearlessly and freely.
In fact, even Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton has shown willingness to get involved if China tries to mount an attack on Taiwan.
On the issue of Chinese aggression against Taiwan, Dutton said, “I don’t think it should be discounted. I think China has been very clear about the reunification and that’s been a long-held objective of theirs and if you look at any of the rhetoric that is coming out of China from spokesmen, particularly in recent weeks and months in response to different suggestions that have been made, they have been very clear about that goal.”
The Australian Defence Minister added, “I think people need to be realistic about the activity. There is militarisation of bases across the region. Obviously there is a significant amount of activity and there is an animosity between Taiwan and China. For us, we want to make sure we continue to be a good neighbour in the region, that we work with our partners and with our allies and nobody wants to see conflict between China and Taiwan or anywhere else.”
As for Japan, it remains a regional ally for Taiwan. Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe showed the intent to cooperate closely with Taipei, and his legacy has been taken forward by sitting PM Yoshihide Suga. Last month, there was a slight misunderstanding after Suga denied the possibility of any commitment towards Japanese military involvement over Taiwan.
However, Abe has once again come to the rescue of the island nation. Last week, the former Japanese PM who remains politically influential within his own country tweeted a photo of himself smiling with Taiwanese pineapples around him. He can be seen holding one of the pineapples in the said picture. Abe tweeted, “Today’s snack is pineapples, and they look delicious.”
— 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) April 28, 2021
The former Japanese PM’s tweet was seen as a move to support the #FreedomPineapple campaign – a movement started by Taiwan after China stopped importing the Taiwanese product amidst the ongoing tensions between Taipei and Beijing.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen responded by tweeting, “Please enjoy the Taiwanese pineapples! If five aren’t enough, please do let me know and I’ll send you more pineapples anytime.”
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) April 28, 2021
Abe’s tweet was symbolic. His ‘pineapple diplomacy’ was a signal to both the Tsai Ing-wen administration in Taiwan and the Suga government in Japan. Abe has used all his political capital to assure Taipei that Japan is going to rise to the occasion if and when Beijing tries to invade the island nation. And we can see how his initiative has emboldened Taiwan.
Taiwan is clearly riding on the diplomatic support and assurance it is getting from Abe and Morrison. And, the island nation is ready to kick China out of its waters now, and as such, it doesn’t fear Beijing any longer.