Indeed, the relatively subtle “courting” strategy reached its apogee between 2008 and 2016. During those years, the moderate Kuomintang Party, led by President Ma Ying‐jeou, governed Taiwan and sought closer, more cordial, relations with Beijing. The PRC government responded favorably, and the two sides negotiated an array of accords, especially economic agreements, that greatly expanded and improved bilateral ties. Mainland tourists poured onto the island, and cross‐strait trade and investment blossomed. Beijing’s strategy was based on the belief that such links would tie Taiwan’s economy so closely to the PRC that risking a disruption merely to preserve the island’s de facto political independence gradually would become much too costly for the Taiwanese to consider. A corollary assumption was that the steady growth of economic relations would condition Taiwan’s population eventually to accept political unification with the mainland.
Beijing’s behavior since 2016, however, has made a shambles of that subtle, incremental strategy. The first blow came when Taiwan’s January 2016 elections produced a decisive victory for the pro‐independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Not only did the DPP win the presidency (which it had done previously in 2000 and 2004), but for the first time ever it took control of the island’s legislature. Instead of responding with patience to this setback, PRC leaders reacted with bullying petulance. Beijing snubbed and excoriated Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing‐wen, and sought to increase Taiwan’s international isolation by excluding Taiwanese representatives from all meaningful international forums and by poaching the handful of countries that still maintained diplomatic relations with Taipei. Worse, the PRC stepped‐up its military pressure against the island. Both components of that strategy intensified dramatically when Tsai and the DPP won an outright landslide in the 2020 elections.