Beyond the war talk, what Taiwan really needs from Australia – The Australian Financial Review

Credit: Original article can be found here

So if you put all this together, there’s one conclusion. That conclusion is that the Chinese authoritarianism is trying to expand its influence beyond its own border, beyond the first island chain. And this is something that we, as fellow democracies, need to watch out for.

And we also need to understand all these confrontations, all the Chinese expansionism. Taiwan happens to be on the front line. China seems to be focusing on its attacks on military coercion or disinformation campaigns, or hybrid warfare, or isolating Taiwan’s international participation, or using some economic measures to coerce Taiwan.

I think Taiwan seems to be a focal point of the Chinese oppression. And since Taiwan’s position on the front line against Chinese expansion, I think the fellow democracies also need to understand that providing Taiwan with some moral support seems to be necessary for the like-minded countries, especially for those countries that are working very closely with Taiwan, on political affairs, international affairs, or economic affairs.

And I would like to stress again that Australia has been speaking out for Taiwan, and that is highly appreciated. And we think that Australia is a true friend indeed in speaking out for Taiwan.

Preparing for a ‘war situation’

AFR: What do you think of the language coming from Australia? We had a very senior government official last week saying the “drums of war” are beating. We are not hearing this from other countries. Does stoking the fears of war … some people say this actually serves China’s goals. Does this do Taiwan a disservice by talking up the possibility of war?

Minister: It’s not only some of the Australian decision makers or senior politicians talking about the apparent threat posed by China against Taiwan. There are also American decision makers, military experts or military officials, senior defence officials who are also stressing the same language, or raising the possible scenarios in almost the same fashion.

And we think this is good for Taiwan, that the international community is paying more attention to the security situation Taiwan is facing. And if the security situation is catching international attention, then I’m sure the international community is going to look at the situation Taiwan is in and the fact that Taiwan is already a democracy, and there will be more people voicing support for Taiwan against the expansion of authoritarianism.

AFR: Is the threat of war really imminent? What’s changed? People have talked about maybe China making a move on Taiwan in the next five years or 10 years. But do you think it’s far closer than we’ve thought previously? And why do you think that?

Minister: In that interview with Sky TV in Britain last week I said China is engaging in isolating Taiwan from the international arena, trying to engage in disinformation, disinformation campaign or hybrid warfare … intensifying it’s military threat against Taiwan, seems to be preparing for a final assault against Taiwan. So that was the language that I used.

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I don’t want to say that a war between Taiwan and China is imminent. But nevertheless, the Taiwanese government needs to prepare for the war situation. And in fact, there’s a whole of government approach in Taiwan; it’s not only the Ministry of Defence preparing for a possible assault by China militarily. I think the Taiwanese government including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also trying to make better friends around the world so that the international community can understand the situation in Taiwan more.

And because of our efforts, not only Australia is understanding the threat China has posed on Taiwan war. Australia is also speaking up more on Taiwan issues, not only the Defence officials, senior Defence officials talking about the possible assault in the AUSMIN (Australia–US Ministerial
Consultations), the US-Australia 2+2 joint statement. There were also some
strong statements supporting Taiwan’s international participation, and also
reaffirming Taiwan’s importance in the Indo-Pacific.

And this has never happened before. And we need more friends in the international community. And if you look at Europe, the European countries in general are paying more attention to the Indo-Pacific as well. You see that the Netherlands, Germany and France all have their Indo-Pacific strategy these days. And the UK also has a comprehensive policy review, and stressed a lot on the Indo-Pacific and the EU itself is also coming up with an Indo-Pacific report, it’s called Indo-Pacific Co-operation Policy, and it’s going to come out in August.

So we are very happy to see like-minded countries more and more are paying attention to this part of the world. And they think that democracy is something, you know, it’s a value that we need to safeguard against. I’m sure all these countries will think that what China is doing to Taiwan is wrong. And they will come to Taiwan’s support. At least moral support.

Bigger role in the Indo-Pacific

AFR: Do you see Australia playing a greater role than moral support? Would you expect Australia to provide military support if there is some kind of conflict?

Minister: We are not expecting that at this moment. We think that the situation right now is that Australia has been providing Taiwan with essential support for Taiwan’s international participation, and have been maintaining very good relations with Taiwan, and also working with the United States, in making a joint statement like what has being seen in AUSMIN.

Australia has also been participating in a very active way, in the Quad ministerial meeting, or the Quad Summit. We are happy to see that Australia is playing a bigger and more important role in the Indo-Pacific.

But talking about the military co-operation and all that in between Australia and Taiwan, that might be [going] a little bit too far. We think that since Australia is going to play a more important role in the Indo-Pacific, more
exchanges between the two countries on the situation in this part of the
world might be necessary and we will work very hard in that regard.

AFR: What else can Australia do to strengthen bilateral ties with Taiwan, either economically or diplomatically? Should we, say for example, be reviewing our one China policy? Or should we allow ministerial visits to Taiwan?

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Minister: I would say that Australia has its own national interest to calculate, to assess, and to make its own decisions and we fully respect that. But judging from the international trend, we certainly hope that the Australian government can raise the level of contact with Taiwan. Even though we have the economic and trade relations between the two sides, and also the official contacts between the two sides have been reaching a level that we feel very satisfied with, we certainly hope that that kind of exchanges can go beyond the trade relations.

We have been discussing with Australia, maybe there’s a possibility for economic co-operation agreements.

You know, for example, if we are talking about the supply-chain
resiliency, or talking about the mutual support, fighting against COVID, or
talking about the strengthening of the democratic values, I think it would
involve many more government ministries. And I’m sure that the Australian government will find it in its own interest in pursuing broader relations with Taiwan. And of course, that will be in our interest as well.

I’m very glad that you mentioned about the trade and economic relations. You probably understand that Taiwan and Australia are very important
trading partners to each other. Australia is Taiwan’s number 10 trading
partner and we are Australia’s 14th trading partner. So with this kind of
importance, I’m sure you would agree with me that we need to think about
how to strengthen our trade relations.

We have been discussing with Australia, maybe there’s a possibility for
economic co-operation agreements between Taiwan and Australia, and
the talk has been going on for quite some time. And we certainly hope that
an ECA between Taiwan and Australia can come into being.

Looking at your neighbour, New Zealand, they already have an FTA with Taiwan. They are taking lots of trade opportunities away from Australia. So maybe Australia will think about how to strengthen relations, trade relations with Taiwan by signing an ECA (economic co-operation
agreement) with Taiwan. So this is a bilateral type of trade arrangement.

But, of course, the key feature in this part of the role on the trading bloc is
the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific
Partnership). The CPTPP is a very high standard trade bloc involving the APEC countries. Now, we have a new member, the UK, trying to participate in the CPTPP and Taiwan has been pursuing its participation into the CPTPP ever since the United States was still trying to put it together.

But we hope that Australia can look at Taiwan’s potential contribution to the CPTPP in a more serious manner and can voice support for Taiwan’s participation. If the timing is right, we will tender our application and we certainly hope that Taiwan can become a member. It’s going to benefit Taiwan for sure and I’m sure it’s going to benefit the CPTPP member countries as well.

AFR: Could you see that happening any time soon, in the next year?

Minister: We are trying to make an evaluation of the best timing. We haven’t decided on when, but my personal take is that we will tender our application some time this year.

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AFR: Have you had any discussions at all with the Scott Morrison administration about resurrecting those talks for an FTA?

Minister: We have shared with some of the Australian government officials,
especially those dealing with trade, our intense interest in having a bilateral ECA. I think they understand the seriousness of Taiwan in pursuing an ECA with Australia. But, as I said, the Australian government has its own interests, has its own assessment of national interest and we fully respect that.

AFR: When I was in Taipei several years ago, I was told that there were hopes there would be deeper exchanges between Taiwan and the Australian government and our security agencies on how to combat Chinese
influence. Are you still hopeful there could be deeper exchanges in this
area?

Minister: We have some Track Two, very serious Track Two dialogues between Taiwan and Australia, concerning the security situation, and also
concerning cyber security, and the infiltration or the general hybrid
warfare type of security situation between Taiwan and Australia. The
kinds of exchanges bore fruit for those countries, and we treasure that, and
we will keep having those Track Two, very serious Track Two dialogues,
in between the two countries.

Expansion of authoritarian power

AFR: Many people in Australia are aware of China but perhaps many people don’t know a lot about Taiwan. Why should we help? What are the consequences of us doing nothing to support Taiwan?

Minister: Well, there is a German who wrote on a monument in Boston which went something like this: “First, they came after the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. And then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I’m a Protestant. But by the time
they came for me, there was nobody left to speak out for me.”

So I think this is something that we face in the international community these days, even though Australian government officials been speaking out on behalf of Taiwan in a much stronger way than before. It is highly appreciated by the Taiwanese people.

But for those Australians who did not know the situation in this part of the
world, I think it is the expansionism of the authoritarian order. They
[China] tried to impose authoritarian order on many parts of the world,
they tried to take over the Solomon Islands and, of course, they want to
expand their influence beyond the First Island Chain. We saw their
military activities reaching out to the second or third island chain. So this
is a very rapid expansion of the authoritarian power.

And we certainly don’t want to see that what happened in Hong Kong
repeated in Taiwan. What happened in Hong Kong touches the hearts of
many people around the world and we thought that was a tragedy and I’m
sure many Australian people also feel that it’s a tragedy. Originally Hong
Kong was a beacon of liberty, and economic freedom in this part of the
world, but no more, after the imposition of national security law in the
middle of last year. That is all gone. The elected officials are being
disqualified. Now, there’s only one voice, that is the voice of Xi Jinping.

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And that is wrong. That is what we see, the expansionism of authoritarian
order. And, of course, we don’t want to see that repeated on Taiwan. Never. That seems to be what China wants to do against Taiwan. I’m sure the Australian people also have that belief in mind. Freedom, democracy, the protection of the human rights is the value that they treasure and if that is what they treasure, I’m sure they will look at Taiwan with the shared value. And they will think that speaking out on behalf of Taiwan is a great thing to do.

Freedom of navigation operations

AFR: Have you approached the Australian government for any high-level dialogue? Would you like to have a dialogue with our Foreign Minister
Marise Payne? Would your President be hopeful of talking to Scott Morrison at any point soon?

Minister: Well, even if there is, the practice of diplomacy is that we keep it quiet. I have no comment on that, but we respect the Australian government’s decision on what is the best for its national interest.

AFR: On naval patrols, Japan’s ambassador in Australia has called on Australia to step up co-operation in the East China Sea, including joint military operations. So there’s going to be more pressure on Australia to back US naval exercises in your part of the world. Would you like to see that
happen?

Minister: The Australian government is already taking part in the freedom of navigation operations, even though that has been conducted in a quiet way. And it’s the same that I say about the European countries, focusing or
paying much more attention to the Indo-Pacific by speaking about the
importance of this region, or by sending a fleet to this part of the world to
combat freedom of navigation operations, and I think Australian government is doing the same. From Taiwan’s perspective, that kind of
effort is highly appreciated. But what the Japanese government is urging
the Australian government to do more, that is something that I would not
comment on.

We are very concerned that Taiwan may be the scapegoat, or the venue of the authoritarian regime.

AFR: Why would China try and invade Taiwan now? Experts say this is a war that if the US gets involved, China could not win. So why would Xi
Jinping do this now? Why wouldn’t he bide his time and wait a decade or
two, when he might have a better chance?

Minister: If you look at what’s going on, in the last few years, especially after the trade war began between the United States and China, it was taking a toll on the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy slowed down, it was very apparent. And then came COVID. It was also taking a toll on the Chinese economy. With the large number of people unemployed, you can safely predict that people’s discontent is going to be very apparent, even though the authoritarian government was able to squash the discontent, but it’s still building up inside the Chinese population.

Another thing is that they need to continue to show that the country is bigger and better and stronger than before, and show the people that we
can look at other countries like the United States as an equal these days. That is a very important message to the Chinese people, that can serve as a
source of legitimacy for the regime.

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And another thing is, you know, they have classified some of their
historical issues like Taiwan. They’ve been claiming that Taiwan is part of
China, and therefore taking Taiwan back into the motherland is their
historical mission. They are not able to take back the historical mission,
their propaganda to their own people.

So if you put all this together, the regime may have a credibility issue, and especially with the economic slowdown, I think the Chinese government may want to think about one classical wisdom of the authoritarian regime, you know, create some crisis outside the country it is able to control to divert the domestic attention. And we are very concerned that Taiwan may be the scapegoat, or the venue of the authoritarian regime.

Another issue is the nature of the Communist regime in China right now. It’s more authoritarian than ever. Xi Jinping seems to be accumulating the power in his own hands. But he only has 24 hours a day, and he is one person, right? You know, he cannot make all the decisions and therefore,
many of the decisions that are not reaching out to him have to be taken by
bureaucracies.

But bureaucracies are not able to discuss those major decisions with Xi Jinping himself so they might want to do something to impress the top leader, like showing some muscle against Taiwan, or have some 30 wars on the diplomatic arena, Wolf Warrior type of diplomacy or try to punish Australia economically, or Taiwan, economically. So these are what we see as some of the symptoms of the problems of authoritarian regime. So this is what we see right now.

Peace, stability and moderation

AFR: What has to happen to stop China, for want of a better word? Do you need all the allies, the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, everyone on the same page, everyone sending a signal to Beijing that this won’t be tolerated? What has to happen?

Minister: I’ll give you an example. In the 2+2 between the United States and Japan, in the joint statement, there was a sentence: the peace and stability of the palistrate is of importance to the two countries. Australia has already done that in its AUSMIN joint statement. The importance of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific is recognised and it supports Taiwan’s international participation. So this is good.

If there can be more countries in Europe, Canada, etc, all these like-minded countries that treasure the value of democracy, can all come out and express their concern about the peace and stability in the palistrate. And I think this will become a very strong deterrent against the Chinese expansionism and this is what we are hoping for. The Australian government has been doing that and it is highly appreciated.

AFR: Is there a danger here we can provoke China? If China thinks by getting more international support, you might be advocating for independence – which I understand you’re not – but could this move provoke China?

Minister: I think China is trying to use what you said as a deterrence against other countries to come to Taiwan’s support by even [showing] only oral support. But what we need in Taiwan is for the international community to show that they care about the coercion China is imposing on Taiwan. That will be good for Taiwan to continue to serve as a force for good in the world.

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We are not pursuing anything that will destabilise the situation. In fact, you know, the administration here in Taiwan is being recognised and appreciated for pursuing the policy of peace and stability and moderation
across the Taiwan Strait, and we will continue to act like that. We will continue to participate in international activities that will bring benefit to everyone else.

For example, Taiwan is participating in the relief efforts for the world to fight against COVID. We are working together with the coalition in fighting against ISIS terrorism. We are participating in another coalition working for freedom of religion and we are working together with like-minded countries in the sanctions against North Korea etc.

AFR: Minister, we’re out of time but was there anything else you wanted to say to the Australian people?

Minister: I had a chance to visit Australia in 2013 and I know how great Australia is and I really adore the country. This is a great country embracing the beliefs of freedom and democracy. Therefore it is like my country, Taiwan. We certainly hope that we can do more together with Australia to benefit the rest of the world.

This is an edited transcript of Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu’s interview with the Financial Review’s China correspondent Michael Smith on Tuesday.