Taiwan is the frontline of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) disinformation hybrid warfare, and democracies need to learn from Taiwan and incorporate it into more international organizations and other bodies, a group of conservative MPs in the UK heard Tuesday.
The Webinar entitled “Discussion: CCP Influence and Interference in the UK” was organized by China Research Group, a group of conservative MPs.
When asked what democratic countries can do to learn from and defend Taiwan, Dr. Mareike Ohlberg, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and co-author of “Hidden Hand: How the Communist Party of China is Reshaping the World,” said it’s important to increase engagement with Taiwan and incorporate it into more international organizations and various other bodies.
To recognise Taiwan as an independent country may not be a realistic option because it could trigger a response from the Chinese regime in the mainland, Ohlberg said. “But I think what must be done is, Taiwan needs to be firmly incorporated into all basically below recognition activities,” she told the webinar.
“And this is something where the UK can be very active, where European countries can be very active,” she said. “They can’t defend Taiwan militarily, but they can help counter the isolation that has been happening to Taiwan.”
Ohlberg said that co-operating with Taiwan would be in the world’s interest, citing the CCP virus pandemic as an example.
“We used to think that Taiwan being excluded from bodies like the WHO was to Taiwan’s detriment. I think if we look at the current pandemic, we can very realistically argue that Taiwan being excluded from WHO was to the world’s detriment,” she said.
“Because they would have had something important to contribute, [and they] still do. And therefore it is not only right, it’s also very much in our interest to work with Taiwan on these issues,” she said.
Charles Parton, a former UK diplomat who worked for 22 years in or on China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, said he agrees with Ohlberg.
“I think it’s important to realize that Taiwan is the frontline of this disinformation hybrid warfare. We have a hell of a lot to learn from them,” Parton said, adding that he hopes the UK government can send “a whole raft of” delegations to learn from Taiwan.
Divide And Conquer
Ohlberg said that the CCP’s approach to the UK from a macro perspective is “from its United Front principle of making sure that it can isolate its principal enemy.”
The United Front thinking “informs the work of all of the party,” Ohlberg said. “It basically distinguishes three basic zones.”
The three zones are the friends of the party, a small number of enemies of the party, and a neutral camp, she said.
“You want to make sure that the most people, the most countries are on board with the CCP against the principal enemy,” which can vary under different circumstances.
On a global scale, Ohlberg said, the CCP’s principal enemy is the United States.
“So here in the UK, [which] is obviously interesting to the CCP as a key U.S. ally,” she said. “There’s a reason why five eye countries have been targeted. In particular, in that case, you want to make sure that you surround the United States as your principal enemy, and make sure that you turn its allies against it.”
Ohlberg said this is done in a two step process.
“The first step would be to shift the UK perspective by tying up its business interests … to China into a position where in a case of conflict, it would remain neutral,” Ohlberg said. “In large parts of Europe, you could argue that the CCP has already succeeded in that.”
“And then ultimately, in the very long run, you would want to have the UK and other countries that were previously allied with the U.S. to side with China or the CCP [and] its goals.”
‘Killing The Chicken To Scare The Monkey’
The principle to isolate its main enemies, Ohlberg said, is seen at many other levels, such as isolating developed countries in the UN by mobilising developing countries, or using local governments to overcome resistance to a policy at the national level.
Citing a Chinese idiom “killing the chicken to scare the monkey,” Ohlberg said the CCP would make an example out of a few, in order to get others to fall in line.
“The basic idea here being if you only shout at and intimidate a small number of people, you don’t make too many enemies at the same time,” she said, “while at the same time, signaling to all others that you [sic] better not pick a battle with the CCP.”
Ohlberg said this strategy has been used on countries, such as Sweden, Australia, or Canada; and also on others such as companies, individual politicians, or academics.
The panelists all agreed that the world’s democracies need to think in the long term and get together to counter the CCP’s interference.
What needs to happen is first “when you see a country being targeted, when you see a company being targeted, and other groups being targeted, that your first reaction is ‘next time, that could very well be us,’ and not ‘oh great, it’s not us,'” Ohlberg said.
Secondly, in the long term, to prevent CCP interference is “not to preemptively send memos to everybody in your company, or to everybody in your ministry, to not offend China, but to actually stand up actively [to] defend the country, the company, the group that is under attack,” she added.
Ohlberg said that we have seen “a tiny sliver” of this shift of thinking in voicing support to Australia when it was targeted by the Chinese regime, but it’s “not nearly enough.”
She argued that countries, academia, and other areas need to have “a large degree of coordination” and a code of conduct in future dealings with such issues.
Parton agreed with the strategy of unity, which is one of the five words he used to summarize what’s needed to counter the CCP’s influence and interference—knowledge, transparency, publicity, unity, and reciprocity.
“I’m much attached to the idea of like-minded democracies—whether it’s a D forum, or D15, or D20—getting together and laying down a set of guidelines for themselves and acting in concert,” he said, because communist China and democratic countries are in what he calls “a values war.”
“They should not be in any doubt. Xi Jinping has said so on a number of times,” he said, “and particularly, I always go back to his first comment in his first Politburo meeting in 2013, where he said there must be struggle so that Chinese socialism can emerge in the superior position over capital, Western capitalism, that’s how he sees it.”