Taiwanese Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu says his country is battle ready as China has been preparing for war for quite some time. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he says China has been firing missiles over Taiwan, has launched large-scale sea and air exercises very close to the island and breached the median line demarcating the de facto border. Wu, however, is confident that not just the United States, which is Taiwan’s traditional ally and guarantor of its security, but also other democracies like the UK, Japan, Canada and Australia will support his country if a war breaks out.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q/ What is the present situation in Taiwan?
A/ China is still conducting daily military exercises not far away from Taiwan. And if you look at the way the Chinese are conducting these exercises in the aftermath of the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, you can tell that this is a whole package which they have been practising for a long time. China wants to use this opportunity as a pretext for the exercise. It fired missiles over Taiwan, into the waters to the east of Taiwan and even into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. It also conducted large-scale air and sea exercises and launched a massive disinformation campaign against us. At the same time, it announced economic coercion measures and launched cyberattacks. Putting all these together, you can see that China has been preparing for quite some time for a war against Taiwan and we have to be prepared for a possible future attack.
Q/ This is not the first time Taiwan is facing a threat from China. Why do you think it is more critical this time?
A/ If you look at the magnitude of the Chinese military exercise, this time it is compounded with hybrid warfare. The threat is real. During the previous tensions across the Taiwan Strait in 1995-1996, China fired some missiles targeting the waters near Taiwan. But a few missiles are not going to destroy us. China did not have the capability of crossing the Taiwan Strait to launch an amphibious war against us. But this time it is different. It fired missiles over Taiwan and launched large-scale sea and air exercises very close to us. China also launched hybrid warfare, cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and economic coercion. Moreover, if you look at China’s attempts to alter the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, it is more serious than before. In the middle of the Taiwan Strait there is an undeclared median line which has been safeguarding peace and stability for decades. It is also an important symbol of status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the Chinese military seems ready to break that. China’s foreign ministry has announced its sovereignty over the Taiwan Strait. This seems to be China’s justification for military exercises to harass Taiwan. In the past few days, Chinese aircraft have continued to cross the median line.
Q/ Is Taiwan ready for a counter-attack?
A/ We are prepared for any kind of military aggression from China. We have been under Chinese military threat for a long time. Therefore, our military is preparing for any eventuality. We cannot predict when China is going to launch its attack. In Taiwan, we should not care whether it is tomorrow or next year or five years from now. The most important thing is that we have to be ready. After all, this is our country, our people, our sovereignty and the democratic way of life. We have to defend ourselves. And we are learning lessons from Ukraine. War is not determined by military hardware alone. Ukraine is under attack by the largest land army in the world, but it is holding out. The bravery of the Ukrainians is an inspiration to the Taiwanese people. We are learning from Ukraine about asymmetric warfare. Many countries will support Taiwan if there is a crisis. We are also engaging in military reform to ensure that Taiwan acquires asymmetric capabilities and mobilisation capacity and that our men and women who are not in uniform are also able to defend themselves if China wants to launch a war against Taiwan.
Q/ China has imposed sanctions on Taiwan. Is there any plan to stop the export of semiconductor chips to China?
A/ This has been under discussion for quite some time. We have been working with like-minded partners, especially the United States, on trade sanctions against China, to see what kind of material we should end sending to China in order to stop helping the Chinese military arm itself. At this moment, the export of microchips and other materials is going through a lot of scrutiny to make sure that our exports are not going to be part of China’s weapons against us.
Q/ What are Taiwan’s expectations from India?
A/ We understand every country has its own policy. And we cannot force other governments to say what we want them to say. The Indian ministry of foreign affairs has shown concern for peace and stability over Taiwan, shown sympathy towards us and wants all sides to end the tension in this area. That is exactly what we need from India and it is highly appreciated. We both believe in freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, we both face threat from China. Taiwanese and Indians are friends, with shared values. We will continue to develop our relations in trade, investment, people-to-people exchanges, education, agriculture, etc, to build deeper ties. I want to say to my Indian friends that all democracies need to show support to each other.
I would like to read out a poem written by a German pastor during World War II….
“First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for the trade
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.”
We speak up for the Ukrainians, even though we don’t have any relations with Ukraine. We will continue to speak up for the world. In the same way, we hope our Indian friends will continue to speak up for us.
Q/ Is Taiwan expecting help from the United States if China attacks?
A/ The United States has adopted the Taiwan Relations Act and this is the law governing the relations between Taiwan and the US. There is a special bond. But fighting for Taiwan is our own responsibility. This is our home and, therefore, we have the obligation to defend ourselves and we are prepared. However, before there is actual combat, we need a lot of help from the US and Europe, for example, in providing training and arms. The US has been very faithful in doing this and making sure that Taiwan is capable of defending itself. So what we are looking for is that the US will continue to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, training and maintenance. That would allow Taiwan to have the capacity to repel any kind of threat from China.
Q/ Ukraine is a sovereign country recognised by the United Nations. Isn’t the status of Taiwan a challenge for you?
A/ Even though Taiwan is recognised by only 14 countries, we do have friends. Many of them are actually taking part in security matters in this part of the world. For example, right after the Chinese military exercises started, the US, Japan and the UK expressed their concern over peace and stability in the region. The G7 also issued a statement, and other countries, too, have shown their support. Therefore, it is our expectation that if China launches a war against Taiwan, there will be a lot of countries showing their support. Last year, many countries sent their naval ships to patrol the Indo-Pacific region for the ‘freedom of navigation’ operations to show that they care about peace and stability in the region. India is the largest democracy and we are counting on the support of democratic countries against the expansion of authoritarianism.
- Taiwan president resigns as party head after local election losses
- China speeding up Taiwan invasion as status quo no longer acceptable for Beijing: Blinken
- How Taiwan is defying China
- President Tsai Ing-wen seems the best bet to protect Taiwan's interests
- New “gang of four” in Taiwan challenges China
- Taiwan crisis caused by opportunistic moves of US Democratic Party: Xie Chao
Q/ What are China’s expansionist plans?
A/ China has ambitions to expand its own power. Apart from the threat in the Taiwan Strait, China is in the East China Sea, trying to intrude into the disputed waters with Japan by sending military ships. It has now started expelling Japanese fishing boats from the area. If you look at the South China Sea, the Chinese ambition is even more clear. First, it built some tiny little rocks into major military bases. In addition to that, China’s ambition is also seen in the Pacific. We have seen its security agreement with the Solomon Islands and the interest in signing security agreements with the rest of the Pacific countries. That is something about which the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have serious concerns. Now if you look at the Indian Ocean region where India is located, China has already established a string of pearls. In the case of Sri Lanka, China is in control of Hambantota harbour which is causing heartburn among our Indian friends. Look at the ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and all the way to Djibouti. These are part of China’s expansionist plans to set up naval bases in the Indian Ocean. Time has come for democracies to wake up to the growing threat from the expansionism of authoritarianism.
Q/ What are the key areas in which India and Taiwan can improve cooperation?
A/ The first one is culture. A significant portion of the Taiwanese people are Buddhists and it is a religion similar to what many Indian people practise. Therefore, cultural exchanges can be very promising. The second area is trade and investment. Some Taiwanese industrialists and business leaders have already set up industrial parks in India and more investors are going there. There is also some discussion between the two sides on semiconductor cooperation, which is a very promising area with the talent in India and the technology in Taiwan. I think there is a natural match there to improve trade and economic relations. We had bilateral trade worth $7.7 billion last year and that is growing.
Q/ Are talks with China a possibility any time soon?
A/ We are always open to dialogue and discussion with China as we believe it is always better than fighting with each other. But the problem from the Chinese side is that it has set preconditions like accepting that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China. The reality is that Taiwan has always been autonomous. We have a democratically elected president and parliament, and also various ministries like defence and foreign affairs. Therefore, Taiwan is run by Taiwanese people, and to submit to China is not an option. After all, Chinese authoritarianism is not going to be accepted by Taiwanese people. So unless China drops its political precondition, talks are going to be difficult. Nevertheless, the international community has recognised Taiwan’s role under President Tsai Ing-wen in dealing with China in a responsible way. If the international community can urge China to start a genuine dialogue with Taiwan, our doors are always open.
Q/ Is pursuing independence an option, if China does not allow a peaceful status quo?
A/ Beijing has been trying to portray that Taiwan is pursuing independence, which is unacceptable to it, and therefore it is going to use military force against us. But if you look at the status quo, Taiwan is run by itself and this has been going on ever since People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. A majority of Taiwanese people believe in the status quo and President Tsai was elected based on that. Our policy is to maintain this status quo, and we do not want to provoke any crisis. President Tsai has been saying for a long time that China and Taiwan have no jurisdiction over each other. Most importantly, Taiwan is already a democracy and we will adhere to the most important principle of democracy—the future of Taiwan should be determined by the Taiwanese people rather than the authoritarian leaders in China.