As China enhances diplomatic and defence ties with Belarus, a close ally of Russia which is waging a war against Ukraine, Taiwan appears worried. Taiwanese experts believe that the growing Sino-Russian ties are likely to escalate tensions in the Indo-Pacific. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Lin Fei-fan, board member of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and former deputy secretary general of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party―he was in New Delhi for the Raisina Dialogue―said he wanted to see more progress in India-Taiwan relations.
Q/ The war in Ukraine is still going on. Do you see a conflict between China and Taiwan in the near future?
A/ The level of threat is reaching a different point compared with the past. Tensions have intensified not just in China’s relations with Taiwan, but also in its relations with other countries. The recent move of cooperation with Belarus and the growing relations with Russia will intensify tensions between China and other countries. The whole region is in an unstable situation. It is not because of Taiwan or the United States, but because of the autocratic mindset of the Chinese leaders and their desire to overturn the international order. What we need to watch out for is attempts by President Xi Jinping to divert attention away from their domestic situation, through international incidents. If Xi loses control because of domestic unrest and economic setbacks, whether he would divert attention by external conflicts is what we need to watch.
Q/ With House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy planning a visit to Taiwan, how do you see engagements with the US going forward?
A/ We have not seen a specific schedule of the speaker’s visit. Taiwan is an open democracy and we treasure our diplomatic and democratic relations with like-minded allies. Any sort of exchange that can help strengthen ties between democracies, we will definitely treasure that. We also acknowledge that China is trying to seize an opportunity to change the status quo in cross-strait relations. I believe that the DPP government will handle this situation very carefully.
Q/ How has Taiwan’s cooperation with the US increased in the past few months?
A/ We have very strong and close ties with the US. Just a few weeks ago, a Taiwanese delegation had a special channel of talks with high ranking officials in the United States. For the first time, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu travelled to Washington, DC and met senior officials.
Q/ What is the current military situation in the Taiwan Strait?
A/ In the past six months, China has been trying to make the breaking of the status quo as the “new normal” . Every day, we are witnessing Chinese aircraft invade our Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and violate the median line of the Taiwan Strait. According to China, there is no median line. The military situation has completely changed, but I would not say that it is the fallout of speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit. In future, whenever there is any Taiwan-US collaboration, China will use different excuses to threaten us and launch different forms of attack.
Q/ How is Taiwan reacting to the continued Chinese aggression?
A/ Taiwan’s stand is very strong on maintaining cross-strait stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific region. We believe that peace and stability are core values for regional stability not just for Taiwan but China and the entire region. Therefore, the DPP government which is also preparing for the 2024 Presidential elections, is putting all efforts at maintaining status quo and peace and stability in the region.
Q/ Given India’s engagement with China on multiple fronts, do you see New Delhi becoming more receptive towards Taiwan’s concerns?
A/ There has been progress in the past one year and we see a positive shift in the attitude of the Indian government. While we cannot say that there has been a direct change in India’s position on China or Taiwan, we do see progress. I hope this could be the foundation for us to move forward and reach more areas of cooperation with the Indian government. Taiwan is one of the partners the Indian government and companies are trying to woo, especially in the semiconductor sector, but we need to build a foundation to achieve such economic cooperation. We believe that the FTA (free trade agreement) between India and Taiwan will not only provide a breakthrough in bilateral economic cooperation, but will also become the base for Indian industries to receive more investment from Taiwan. A lot of companies in Taiwan were investing in China, but they are now moving out as the prospects of the Chinese economy are not looking good.
Q/ As Taiwan elects its new president in 2024, do you see the rise of the Kuomintang party (KMT)?
A/ The DPP failed in the local elections in 2022, but one of the reasons was that we underestimated the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on people’s lives. I think that was a major mistake. While we did create a lot of resources and make policies to help with jobs and stipends, we could not insulate the people from the impact. While the measures we took to handle the pandemic were better than many countries, for our domestic politics they were not enough and people are still suffering from the impact of the pandemic. This is not only true for Taiwan; many political parties in power in several countries in Europe and United States are facing the brunt of the pandemic. Secondly, the KMT has been trying to discredit the DPP through misinformation campaigns. But, during the upcoming elections, both for the re-election of the parliament and the presidential polls, it isn’t just the domestic issues but also the national security policy and military strategy that will be important. People will want a government with a strong stand on security and safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and preserve democracy. Therefore, the cross-strait relations and our relations with the US will be on top of the agenda in 2024 elections.
Q/ Do you think the people of Taiwan want to elect a KMT government in 2024 in hope for peaceful cross-strait ties?
A/ I don’t think majority of people in Taiwan think that KMT’s approach to China is appropriate. Recently, a KMT delegation went to China during the spy balloon incident in the United States. It was wrong timing. KMT vice chairman Andrew Hsia met high-ranking Communist Party of China (CCP) officials in Beijing which sent a wrong message that negotiations can happen as long as Taipei recognises the so-called 1992 consensus. This meant that KMT still thinks that the 1992 consensus is the basis for cross-strait dialogue which is a major difference between their position and ours. Majority of Taiwanese people don’t view it as a viable approach to China which is sending its spy balloon to another country’s territory. In coming days and months, China will infiltrate or influence the upcoming Presidential polls. I can expect that there will be cognitive warfare from China this year to influence the opinion of the general public and the media, sponsor some KMT candidates and local cooperatives, spread fake news and disinformation.
Q/ What is the current focus of Chinese influence operations in Taiwan?
A/ One of the biggest trends we see today is the attempt to discredit the US support to Taiwan. They are spreading scepticism on offline and online media. Different organisations founded or supported by KMT or pro-China political parties released polling figures on how many people distrust the United States. These figures said 60 per cent people believe that the US is interfering in cross-strait relations. This verdict fits perfectly with the CCP’s approach and attempts to influence public opinion in Taiwan to fulfil their agenda. More and more such attempts are being made to influence elections in Taiwan.
Q/ With China looking at military action in Taiwan in next few years, how do you see the future of the island?
A/ I think if KMT wins the elections, it will be very dangerous for Taiwan . I am saying this not just because I am a DPP member, but the fact we need to know is that Xi Jinping has a very clear goal. He has not decided when to invade Taiwan, but he wants to make Taiwan vulnerable. So, if the future government of Taiwan has a very weak stance on Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty, that makes it easy for Xi Jinping not to invade Taiwan directly using military force but easier for CCP to push Taiwan to go on to the negotiating table and make Taiwan give up sovereignty. That is the best case scenario for CCP.