Meanwhile, the US and China abetted Tsai’s campaign, though obviously in quite different ways. President Trump’s “trade war” with China necessitated putting pressure on Beijing to get better terms. The negotiations became a protracted struggle and Trump employed other means to fortify his position, including playing the “Taiwan card.” Public opinion and Congress both favoured Taiwan and pushed for better relations with Taipei. Trump’s opposition, the Democratic Party, the liberal media, Hollywood and academe all despised China for undermining the liberal world order and supported punishing China. Trump thus found the one issue on which he could win cooperation.
US support for Taiwan translated into support for Tsai’s re-election, as she represented Taiwan and was highly critical of China. Han, in contrast, favoured better relations with China.
China’s attempts to pressure Taiwan were counterproductive. China applied economic sanctions in the form of cutting tourism and leveraged diplomatic and military coercion. It demanded Taiwan accept the “One Country, Two Systems” model for reunification, which was highly unpopular in Taiwan. President Tsai’s narrative that China threatened Taiwan’s sovereignty and its democracy was thus very effective in enhancing her and her party’s popularity. Such narratives also fed public apprehension of Chinese spying on and interfering with the local media through cyber warfare and in other ways.
On the other hand, China pulled its punches and did not apply extreme methods. Trade actually increased, as cutting commercial relations with Taiwan would have had a severe impact in China. Rather than applying more serious diplomatic and military pressure, China had other concerns and sought to deal with Taiwan gradually over time.
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