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Ensuring Peace in the Taiwan Strait: a View from Taiwan September 28, 2021, with Hoover Institution

  • Data Source:Department of North American Affairs
  • Date:2021-09-28

Jaushieh Joseph Wu
 Minister of Foreign Affairs 
 Republic of China (Taiwan) 
 September 28, 2021
(As Delivered)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Happy to be with you all online.


Dr. Diamond, my old friend, it's been a long time, and it is wonderful to see you. I want to thank you for inviting me to address the pressing issue of peace over the Taiwan Strait. 


Without any academic deliberation on the definition and operationalization of what the concept of “peace” is about, the subject of cross-strait peace and stability has never caught so much international attention since 1995-6, when Taiwan was having the first democratic presidential election amid Chinese missile threat. A quarter century has passed since then. And now, tensions over the Taiwan Strait seem to be escalating to a degree where many international military leaders consider that a war is likely to take place in 5 to 10 years. Many crucial dialogues have stressed the importance of peace and stability over the Taiwan Strait, including US-Japan summit, AUSMIN 2021, G7 summit, NATO summit, Japan-EU summit, and more. Like it or not, the maintenance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait has become an important issue in the Indo-Pacific region. And all discussions surrounding this issue point to one actor as the main source of destabilization forces, and you all know who that is. 


Taiwan faces overwhelming military threat. We have to deal with the Chinese air force incursions into our ADIZ almost on a daily basis. At times, the PLAAF would fly multiple war planes to simulate attack on us, targeting particularly our bases in the east and southeast. In fact, this happened just a few days ago on Sept 23, when our MND identified as many as 24 Chinese war planes doing just that. 


Yes, it was a threat, and a very serious one. Yet many still think that there must be a specific event to trigger major Chinese military exercises around Taiwan. They would say that visits of foreign high-level officials, for example, would prompt the Chinese military into taking actions. Arguments like this point to Taiwan as the initiator of provocations. But if you look at the exercise on September 23, the Chinese did not even bother faking any excuse any more.


You may ask: what is the Chinese motivation or objective in their air force exercises? Here is my humble view. First, to maximize their gain in grey zone tactics. They want to continue to cut into our ADIZ as much as possible and to make it their own space of operation. They want to keep pushing for their gain, knowing that we will not fire the first shot. This is also what happens in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. In the East China Sea in particular, the Chinese official vessels are now patrolling the disputed waters on a daily basis and even chasing away Japanese fishing vessels at times. 


Second, the Chinese wants to use their numerical strength to wear down both our pilots and air planes. This has already taken a toll on the Taiwan air force. Third, the PLA is practicing hard on attacking Taiwan by familiarizing with the battlefield, i.e. conditions in the air space, Taiwan and US responses, etc. The exercise on September 23 appeared to be simulating a real attack, involving multiple supporting airplanes and advanced fighters, including J-16 and Su-30, to escort the H-6 bombers through the Bashi Channel to the southeastern side of Taiwan. 


Such military threats go on, while we face a tough debate on going asymmetric. But before a real war takes place, the stalemate is likely to continue, and we need the traditional platforms to patrol our waters and protect our skies. We have no choice.


This is our daily life in Taiwan. Fortunately I am not the defense minister, who has to constantly watch which coming sortie is real. But he is not alone. We in the government all have to share the responsibility of keeping Taiwan safe. We have seen intensifying infiltration, influence operation, disinformation campaign, cyberattack, hybrid warfare, etc. Recently we have even seen a series of cases where young Chinese took rafts to various spots around Taiwan's coast and outer islets, as if they were testing how to penetrate through our radar coverage. 


Few in Taiwan envy the job of the defense minister. But honestly, even fewer envy the job of the foreign minister. The silent diplomatic war has been going on for many years. The Chinese foreign ministry has a mission to take out our diplomatic allies and sabotage our relations with like-minded partners who do not have diplomatic relations with us. The Chinese also block us out of major international organizations by citing UNGA Resolution 2758, even though the resolution says nothing about the status of Taiwan. And now, the situation has become even worse, where all Taiwan passport holders, whether you are a student, tourist, journalist, or NGO members invited to UN events, are not allowed into the UN building. There is a sign at the entrance demanding us to use documents issued by the Chinese government. 


In addition, our nomenclature in various international public and private organizations, airlines, and contests and games, has been changed from Taiwan, or the Republic of China, to Taiwan, China, or Taiwan, Province of China. And the trend continues, with the latest by Fitch Ratings and Moody's. The Chinese keep waging these aggravating maneuverings against the Taiwanese. But when I point out that this is not my real name; my real name is Taiwan, the Chinese would scream and accuse me of being provocative. In fact, I have been branded lately by the Chinese, for trying to make correction of what they done to us, as being too provocative that they will pursue me for the rest of my life. 


Dear friends, I used to be in academia like Dr. Diamond and many of you present today. I tend to look at the larger picture, a global strategic picture, to understand the dynamics. This helps me maintain a clear eye on where Taiwan stands and how to safeguard our national interest by pursuing appropriate foreign policies and relations. 


And what I see is an intense strategic competition posed by China's expansionism. The fall of Hong Kong as a shining beacon of liberalism is very telling. It sent a chill through the Taiwanese people that it is what the Chinese government is capable of in confiscating freedom and human rights. And if Hong Kong is not enough for us to worry, how about Xinjiang? Not to mention that the Chinese government is now exporting its digital means of control to other countries. If you call this an ideological war, Taiwan happens to be on the front line. Taiwanese people are proud to embrace freedom and democracy. But deep down, we also understand this is what the Chinese communist government cannot condone. It wants to have more control, beyond its own population, by infiltration, influence operation, and disinformation campaign, etc. But Taiwan's democratic success proves its draconian model of governance unfit. As long as the ideological warfare goes on, Taiwan will continue to face the threat of invasion. 


The Chinese expansion in the East and South China Seas is already very obvious. But I see some countries in my neighborhood wanting to have American protection, while hanging on to the economic benefit provided by China. I see a gradual expansion of Chinese influence over the Pacific. With the fall of Solomon Islands in 2019, the Chinese are now coming to the doorstep of Australia. The “String of Pearls” strategy and debt traps in the Indian Ocean are a subject studied for more than a decade. In Africa, I am not sure any country can compete with China for political and economic influence. In Central and South America, the rising trend of leftist governments will be very unpleasant for the United States.


Europe worth careful study when it comes to global strategic competition. This is democracy's most important bastion. But we are witnessing some union members willing to side with China to block a policy from going through. Please make no mistake, I consider the trans-Atlantic Alliance a great thing. Taiwan treasures relations with Europe, and I am pleased to see the alliance relationship strengthened recently. But the nature of the union's decision-making mechanism allows China to prevent the EU from moving further through buying out a small number of countries. 


The competition also goes on on the trade and economic front. The Chinese government has formally submitted application to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. Some analysts think the move aims at preventing Taiwan from becoming a member. I tend to think that China wants to stand in the doorway to prevent the US from coming back in to dominate the powerful regional trade pact which targets China. To the Chinese communist government, trade is not just trade; it is a weapon. And the CPTPP is its ammo-to-be, something that cannot fall into the hands of the US. 


We also see authoritarian forces cooperating and even coordinating with each other. Just as China intensifies its threat against Taiwan, so too is Russia conducting large-scale military exercises and disinformation campaign as well as hybrid warfare against the Eastern European countries. At the same time, Belarus floods its neighbors with refugees. Eastern European countries including Poland and Lithuania are on the front line resisting such threats. They are courageous enough to stand up to the challenge. And they are courageous enough to reach out to Taiwan and point out that democracies should support each other. They, along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have galvanized the Taiwanese people to seek better ties with like-minded countries. However, authoritarian threats cannot be reversed by courage alone, and our friends in Europe are right to point out that the EU and NATO can do more to protect their member states when threatened by rogue actors. 


The global strategic picture is putting Taiwan on the spotlight, and we understand perfectly our responsibility. We need to stand up to the military threat and strengthen our own defense capability. We also need to continue pursuing a policy of prudence to deny the Chinese any excuse to launch an attack. Under President Tsai's leadership, this policy of prudence has prevented cross-strait conflict over the years, and it has won appreciation from our major international partners. At the same time, we need to continue to strengthen relations with like-minded countries. With great effort, our relations with the US, Japan, Australia, India, and some Central-Eastern European countries have reached new heights. We have also won the international attention on the importance of peace and stability over the Taiwan Strait. I think we have been doing the right things so far when it comes to our foreign relations.


My dear friends, successive US administrations have called Taiwan a force for good in the world. We have been making significant contributions to the good causes and working closely with the United States, whether it is North Korea sanctions, religious freedom, counter terrorism, or democracy and human rights promotion. We also work with the US and Japan by using Global Cooperation and Training Framework, or GCTF, as a platform to benefit the countries in the Indo-Pacific on various issue areas such as cybersecurity, countering disinformation, maritime security, energy security, environment protection, public health, and HADR. We are proud of these cooperation programs, and we believe that there are many more good things we can do together with the US, Japan, and other like-minded partners. 


Dear friends, I sure wish that China would stop threatening us militarily and harassing us diplomatically so that we can do more good things for the world. Unfortunately, this is not the fact of life for Taiwan's foreign minister, or for Taiwan's relations with China. Given this troublesome reality, and with the understanding of our position as a country on the front line facing the expansion of authoritarianism, we need to continue to stay vigilant and prudent, bolster our own defense capability, and strengthen relations with fellow democracies to sustain peace over the Taiwan Strait. And I look forward to making these advancements with you wherever and whenever possible.


Thank you very much. I would welcome questions.