'Xi's ambitions have slowed down': Andrea Yi-shan Yang

Yang is deputy secretary-general, Democratic Progressive Party


As the world faces two major conflicts―the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war―Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is worried about the possibility of a third one, with China's constant threats against the island. Speaking exclusively with THE WEEK, the DPP's deputy secretary-general Andrea Yang said it was time Taiwan built its own weapons and military equipment to defend itself. Excerpts from the interview:

Q Are this year’s elections a choice between war and peace in Taiwan?

A Taiwan never really supports any military action with China. It is always China that is using military reasons to jeopardise bilateral relations. The Kuomintang (KMT) is a traditionally pro-China political party, so it says that voting for the DPP is equivalent to going to war. But we continue to emphasise the importance of open dialogue and communication. China, however, wants to implement the so called “one country, two systems’’ model in Taiwan, just like it did in Hong Kong. But we are a sovereign country and we try to uphold our democracy. The Taiwanese people demonstrated this in the 2020 presidential elections when they voted to protect our sovereignty and democracy. Once again there is the need to tell China and the rest of the world that upholding democracy in Taiwan is important.

Q Have election campaigns have moved more into the online space rather than physical? 

A It is definitely a trend and we believe that more and more people would not rely on information from traditional mass media. So, the modern politicians really need to learn how to communicate effectively with the users, the voters and their supporters online. And this is something that we all sort of knew can happen (with advancement of technology) but we didn't know how quickly it will change. We could not really predict how fast it's moved around.

Q There are concerns about Chinese interference in the elections.

A China has tried to intervene in Taiwan's elections ever since our first presidential elections in 1996. But their strategy is changing. They are trying to use disinformation and misinformation to influence people's understanding towards China and cross-strait relations. Taiwan is a free country and we cannot ban apps like TikTok. Our younger generation relies on the Chinese app for entertainment. Political messages are being inserted on such platforms and those are also being spread through different chat groups. If you are not careful, you would be easily manipulated by sensational messages, such as the DPP is encouraging people to arm themselves and prepare for war.

Q Is the DPP open to having a dialogue with China and will be it based on the 1992 Consensus? 

A Of course, we are open for a dialogue with China but there shouldn't be any preconditions set. The 1992 Consensus is actually a “created” consensus made up by the KMT, and both the KMT and China have different versions of it. This is very confusing. If there is a consensus, there shouldn't be multiple versions, not to mention there is no written document in this case. So, it's almost like a phantom above Taiwan's politics when it comes to cross-Strait issues. The KMT has been using the 1992 Consensus as a convenient excuse and in our belief the original version of 1992 Consensus is that Taiwan and China, or Republic of China and People's Republic of China - doesn’t matter what term we use - both have an understanding of what one China should be. There is a room for discussion. But China's version of 1992 Consensus is that there is only one China and no room for Republic of China.

Q The world is worried about a third war breaking out in the Taiwan Strait after the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war.

A The two wars have shocked people who were optimistic about world peace. Yes, there is worry about whether the Taiwan Strait would be a third place for war. And that is why we are attracting so much attention from different countries. But the big question is, is it good for China to initiate military action against Taiwan? I think the consequences will be huge for China because the free democratic world will go against it. So if Xi Jinping wants to be the enemy of the entire world, then he would do that. But it is unlikely that he would choose to initiate irrational action at this point, given the economic downturn in China. When Xi met Joe Biden in San Francisco in November, he denied having any knowledge about the timeline of an invasion or war in 2027 or 2049. Some reports even suggested that Xi got emotional, claiming that he never heard of such a thing. It seems Xi is trying to be a great leader for China, but his ambitions have slowed down. Neighbouring countries like Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia are not happy with China as they are worried about its potential irrational actions. At this point, we feel Xi will really need to evaluate the consequences of initiating a war that he will not be able to end.

Q What kind of defence strategy does Taiwan need to prepare itself against possible Chinese invasion?

A In terms of external relations, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen outlined four commitments - that the Republic of China and People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other; upholding free and democratic constitutional system; resisting annexation or encroachment upon sovereignty and the future of Taiwan being determined by Taiwanese themselves. She has tried to maximise the interest of Republic of China and also Taiwan.

The presidential candidate of DPP, Lai Ching-te (William), has brought out four pillars for Taiwan’s security. He has said that firstly we need to strengthen our defence capabilities; strengthen our democracy and improve our economic security. We are also open to dialogue with China. So, we are emphasising the importance of keeping ourselves secure by increasing our defence budgets, making our own weapons and military equipment, including submarines.

While we purchase weapons from countries like United States, there is a need for self preparation to show the world that we are willing to protect ourselves. Of course, we cannot survive without other countries' help and need to have close relations with like-minded countries. In recent years, both US and Japan are emphasising on stronger ties with Indo-Pacific countries. The Biden administration invited South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines to Washington D.C this year. President Biden also visited Vietnam. So, if we see the efforts made by these countries and the historic rise in their defence budgets, it shows the worry of China’s unpeaceful rise and ambitions and we need to continue to deter it.

We are also telling people about Taiwan’s important strategic and geopolitical position and that no one in the world can afford to lose Taiwan to China. More than 50 per cent of the commercial ships go through Taiwan Strait and this place is full of economic interest to the world. So, if China attacks Taiwan, the entire world will suffer.