The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) advance over Hong Kong and the Party’s increasingly frequent military exercises over Taiwan’s airspace lead some analysts to wonder whether the democratic island could be the next “victim” of Beijing.

When the CCP took power by force in China in 1949, the government and the Nationalists’ army, led by President Chiang Kai-shek, withdrew to Taiwan.

Since then, the island has maintained its autonomy and independence, which has allowed it to make outstanding economic progress and a healthy democratic system, in contrast to mainland China.

“Beijing cannot win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese,” said Michael Cole, a senior researcher based in Taipei at the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada.

That is why, according to Cole, the CCP has chosen to develop a “punitive” strategy: increased military coercion, efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally, and various attempts to undermine the effectiveness of the island’s democratic institutions.

After CCP authorities pushed through the new national security law on Hong Kong in June of this year, many opposition activists and politicians fled to Taiwan, which put even more pressure on the island from Beijing.

“”Taiwan’s very existence as a free, democratic society is a living condemnation of the CCP,” explained Cole when asked by Fox News.

In addition to the tension in the Taiwan Strait, there is the diplomatic rapprochement between Taipei and Washington.

When U.S. Secretary of Health Alex Azar traveled to the island in August—the highest official visit in more than 40 years—Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told him that the government of President Tsai Ing-wen feared that her freedoms would be crushed by mainland China.

In fact, during Azar’s visit, J-11 and J-10 aircraft of the Chinese Communist Party crossed the boundary that establishes the “border” between China and Taiwan. The planes were quickly tracked by ground-based anti-aircraft missiles and were “pushed out” by Taiwanese aircraft patrols. But the event was interpreted by Taipei as a clear military provocation by the CCP.

In fact, according to Fox News, in the course of the last few months, the CCP has deployed both its air force and navy to carry out exercises almost daily near the periphery of Taiwan.

That is why many observers go one step further and predict that such military exercises may be more than mere messages, increasing the risk of an eventual war—diplomatic conflict.

Closer ties with Taiwan

Scholars such as Dan Blumenthal, who directs the American Enterprise Institute’s Asian studies and is the author of the forthcoming book “The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State,” point out that, unlike Hong Kong, Taiwan is a de facto independent democratic country—not a “special autonomous zone”—which means that the CCP has “to use military force to bring Taiwan to heel.”

“The risks are that at some point, Beijing will run out of options and/or patience and conclude that it must ‘resolve’ the issue through the use of force,” Cole said.

“The CCP has cultivated a dangerous ultranationalism that makes an admission of failure, backing down or de-escalation nearly impossible. Facing a refusal by the Taiwanese to subject themselves to Chinese rule, the CCP thus faces a challenge to its narrative—and it resents that,” added Cole.

Since the Trump administration arrived at the White House, conflicts with Beijing have intensified while relations with Taipei have improved significantly.

Moreover, State Department Assistant Secretary David Stilwell said in late August that the United States would establish a new bilateral economic agreement with Taiwan, focusing on technology, health care, and energy.

The Trump administration has also given the green light for the sale of more weapons, including F-16 fighter jets, to Taipei.

“The U.S. is moving in the right direction by more publicly engaging with Taiwan and supporting it,” said Blumenthal, adding that Washington should strive to discourage any attempt to use Beijing’s military force.