China has been carrying out a concerted pressure campaign on the island since Tsai Ing-wen’s election to the presidency in 2016.
Taiwan has lost yet another diplomatic ally, with Burkina Faso cutting ties with the island. That news coincided with China’s dis-invitation from America’s Rim of the Pacific Exercise and the cancellation of the summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, making Burkina Faso’s abandonment of Taiwan seem inconsequential by comparison. After all, Taiwan’s unofficial relationship with the United States is far more valuable to Taipei than are its formal diplomatic partners. Furthermore, Burkina Faso is a relatively small and impoverished country that provided Taiwan nearly nothing of value aside from diplomatic recognition. However, China has been campaigning to get as many countries as possible to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan and Burkina Faso is another victory for Beijing.
This makes Burkina Faso’s decision as just the latest in a series of Chinese measures designed to isolate Taiwan and, more specifically, to reduce the potential for foreign interference in Beijing’s designs on the island. In addition, China seeks to convince Taiwan’s people that resistance is futile, to add further strain on Taiwan’s military hardware, and to turn Taiwan’s population against the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
In order to achieve these goals, China has been carrying out a concerted pressure campaign on the island since Tsai Ing-wen’s election to the presidency in 2016. That campaign has featured a variety of coercive tactics, including military exercises, economic warfare, domestic political interference, psychological warfare, the theft of diplomatic allies, and the exclusion of Taiwan from international forums.
There is little reason to believe this pressure will relent any time soon. The Chinese leadership has likely concluded (correctly) that un-coerced unification is not in the cards. That conclusion has coincided with Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” promises, of which unification is an important part. With China potentially entering a period of prolonged economic stagnation, Taiwan may only grow in importance to Xi as he seeks to deliver “national rejuvenation”—and maintain his grip on the reins of power.