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Keynote remarks by Deputy Minister Roy Chun Lee at a Macdonald-Laurier Institute panel discussion Amidst geopolitical turbulence, forging partnerships for peace and stability

  • Data Source:Department of North American Affairs
  • Date:2023-11-20

Dr. Roy Chun Lee

 Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs 

 Republic of China (Taiwan)

 November 20, 2023

 (As Prepared for Delivery)

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends:

It is an honor to join you today at this panel discussion. I extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Brian Lee Crowley, Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and his dedicated team for making this event possible.

In my remarks, I would like to address the growing challenges to global peace and Taiwan’s role in protecting democracy. 

Peace has become an increasingly elusive concept in our ever-changing world. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the global landscape has undergone profound changes that threaten to disrupt the already shaky global economic recovery and worldwide supply chains. In particular, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is a sure sign that authoritarian expansionism is on the march. And the more recent outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas risks engulfing the Middle East in renewed violence.

As all of these events play out, they threaten to overshadow escalating tensions across the Taiwan Strait. However, now is not the time to be distracted. Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait continue to remain matters of supreme geopolitical importance.

The Indo-Pacific strategies published by Canada, the United States, and many other like-minded countries have rightly stated that a free and open Indo-Pacific is crucial for upholding the rules-based international order and that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are vital to achieving this overarching goal. As fighter jets and military vessels from China’s PLA continue to conduct gray-zone operations in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, it is clear that China poses a great threat to the rules-based global order.

Some intelligence officials and experts have said that an attack on Taiwan by the PLA is not a matter of if, but when. However, in the foreseeable future, we are not anticipating a military invasion from China.

That said, China has increased its military intimidation against Taiwan in recent years, particularly through regular sorties by PLA warplanes and warships. In fact, a recent US Department of Defense report indicated that Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone increased by 79 percent in 2022.

Still, our analysis suggests that while these military actions will definitely boost China’s long-term ability to launch an invasion of Taiwan, such operations are currently intended more to facilitate the CCP’s gray-zone coercion against Taiwan. By this, I mean that China wants to sow fear and division within Taiwanese society so as to compel Taiwan to yield to its demands. It also wants to interfere with Taiwan’s forthcoming presidential election and present it as a choice between war and peace. And finally, China hopes to isolate Taiwan by creating a chilling effect on countries who want to stand with and support Taiwan.

So for the time being, we believe that China’s military intimidation does not signify that it is preparing for open conflict. China prefers to secure wins without resorting to all-out war because such tactics are cheaper, more manageable, and less risky. Bear in mind that authoritarian regimes make choices grounded in power and prestige and that the possibility of a failed invasion creates huge political uncertainties for the CCP. In order to sustain its power and totalitarian rule in China, gambling on war is too risky an option for now.

But Taiwan will not be naive about China’s growing military prowess. We always hope for the best, but we also prepare for the worst—especially at this moment when China is experiencing a significant economic downturn. History has taught us that when authoritarian states face domestic challenges, they often seek external scapegoats to divert attention. Our concern is that Taiwan has the potential to serve as a convenient target for China when its domestic crisis unfolds.

That is why we are investing in and accelerating the readiness of our armed forces by implementing asymmetric warfare strategies and building resilience throughout the whole of our society. Taiwan’s military spending has risen consistently over the past seven years, including a 7.7 percent year-on-year increase in the 2023 defense budget, which now stands at 2.5 percent of GDP. Taiwan is committed to maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait in accordance with President Tsai Ing-wen’s pledge that Taiwan will neither provoke nor act rashly and that it will absolutely not bow to pressure. And we continue to work with like-minded partners to build up collective deterrence, aiming to increase costs and risks so as to discourage potential military aggression from China.

Let it also be said that China’s ambitions reach well beyond Taiwan. China aims to shape an international environment favorable to authoritarian regimes. Through gray-zone tactics like election interference, economic coercion, disinformation campaigns, and espionage, China is broadening its global influence. 

Indeed, as Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy stated, China is an increasingly disruptive global power. I am sure you are all quite familiar with the type of behavior this encompasses. In October, for example, Global Affairs Canada identified a “spamouflage” disinformation campaign linked to China that involved a flood of online posts and deepfake videos aimed at discrediting and slandering Canadian lawmakers.

Taiwan has been enduring attacks of a similar magnitude for decades already. And throughout 2022, Taiwan’s public sector received an astonishing 30 million cyberattacks every single month, surpassing European figures more than 1,000 times over. China is systematically implementing disinformation campaigns designed to destabilize Taiwan, disseminate false narratives, and spread discord among our society. It is attempting to manipulate public opinion and undermine Taiwan’s democratic institutions as part of a broader strategy to weaken Taiwan’s sovereignty and international standing.

Despite these immense pressures, Taiwan’s democracy is not only surviving but flourishing and gaining resilience. In addition to proactively boosting our self-defense capacities, we have been forging stronger bonds with like-minded countries so as to establish sustainable and robust economic partnerships.

One significant recent development has been the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Arrangement (FIPA) between Taiwan and Canada. Only a few weeks ago, Canada’s Minister of Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development Mary Ng and Taiwan’s Minister without Portfolio Deng Chen-chung announced the successful conclusion of FIPA negotiations. This declaration underscores the importance of Taiwan as a vital trading partner for Canada.

Furthermore, in June, the first agreement under the Taiwan-US Initiative on 21st-Century Trade was signed in Washington, DC. The initiative marks the most comprehensive trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States since 1979. Beyond generating increased opportunities for bilateral trade development, it signifies a crucial move in Taiwan’s efforts to expand associated partnerships with major trading countries.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United Kingdom also signed an Enhanced Trade Partnership Arrangement with Taiwan earlier this month. This established a bilateral cooperation framework for investment, energy and net-zero emissions, and digital trade. 

All of these endeavors will promote economic growth and benefit people in our own countries. More importantly, these partnerships erect further hurdles for China in its calculations on launching a war against Taiwan. They deter China from making the wrong decision. Deterrence is not solely about military might; it is also about the perceived solidity of commitments to Taiwan by countries like Canada, the United States, and those in Europe. The belief that these commitments are unwavering, enduring, and not susceptible to economic or other forms of pressures is the key to their success. By contrast, any perceived weaknesses or divisions within the democratic alliance may lead Beijing to misjudge its chances in launching a war across the Taiwan Strait.

Ladies and gentlemen, we stand at a critical juncture. Our choices will significantly shape the future for generations to come. As former Prime Minister Lester Pearson stated in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1957, “Of all our dreams today there is none more important—or so hard to realize—than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.” 

I urge you to stand with Taiwan as we seek to maintain our common values of freedom and democracy and much-cherished way of life. By supporting the people of a fellow democratic nation, you are, in essence, safeguarding your own nation, too.

With that, I extend my gratitude to the MLI once again for organizing this panel discussion. I look forward to a lively and productive session. Thank you!