As Hong Kong quells democracy protests, China’s Taiwan gyrates to gung-ho pitch

As Beijing ramps up pressure on Hong Kong’s democracy movement, the Taiwanese government says it is prepared to allow its territory to be used as a backdoor for international influence, according to the Guardian’s Beijing correspondent

China’s blistering crackdown on a democracy movement in Hong Kong and the New Silk Road may be inadvertently bolstering Taiwan’s status as a thorn in Beijing’s side by giving it a new international role.

The Hong Kong demonstrations are swelling and some observers believe Beijing will not tolerate anything beyond empty protests that do not cripple its economic core. The Chinese leadership believes this will make Taiwan less attractive as a potential new axis against it.

At a meeting of foreign service officers in Taipei on 4 September, one of the delegates said the local government was looking for fresh ways to cultivate international businesses and develop economic ties with other Asian nations, particularly those that are eyeing the new China.

“Our industry is improving and we are trying to get businesses from outside,” the delegate said. “In the last 20 years our economy and business situation have definitely improved.”

The government seems most keen to strike business deals with Indonesia, a country that is increasingly looking to open its oil and gas sectors to foreign investors and is keen to boost trade with Taiwan’s island neighbour.

“Taiwanese businessmen think the Asian neighbours like China,” he said. “So we want to trade and build our links with the rest of Asia. Indonesia is a country where there is no competition, so we can run our businesses.”

The envoy went on to say he expected the Beijing-backed AIIB bank, which officials and experts in Taipei are watching for signs of Chinese economic influence, to “be opened up soon”. The aim is to use “things like collaboration with China to compete with India,” he said.

Amid this backdrop, the government is actively seeking deals with abroad while setting up joint ventures in Taiwan with China.

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Officials told the Washington-based thinktank the RAND Corporation this week that they were putting significant effort into increasing the private sector’s profile in Taiwan and encouraging them to work with overseas Chinese counterparts.

The government believes Taiwan’s exports will grow annually at a rate of 5% in the next few years while the private sector will expand further.

São Paulo, Tokyo and Hong Kong are among the cities that Taiwan is pushing into new businesses. The Taiwanese delegate said economic ties with countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa would be established in the next few years.

Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have risen amid a push by Beijing for independence in the self-ruled island. Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated for democracy and against Chinese rule over Hong Kong for nearly three weeks and no end appears imminent.

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