Without continuing United States military support, Taiwan would be vulnerable to an armed takeover from Beijing, the island’s foreign minister told CNN in an exclusive interview.
Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN the Taiwan government felt relations with the US had grown stronger in recent years, but it was vital for Washington to continue to support Taipei militarily and diplomatically.
“(If) the Chinese see the vulnerability of Taiwan, not getting US support, then they would be thinking about starting scenarios where they would be able to take Taiwan over,” he said.
Despite Taiwan being self-governed for almost seventy years, the mainland Chinese government continues to view the island as an integral part of its territory.
Beijing has been ramping up pressure on the Taiwan government since President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally favored independence, took power in 2016.
The Chinese navy has been conducting the latest in a series of live-fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait from Wednesday until Monday, which an expert quoted in state media tabloid Global Times said was “tailored for Taiwan separatists.”
Wu said the live-fire drills were part of a campaign to “intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
“We are trying to maximize our cooperation with like-minded countries, try to engage security cooperation with the US to prevent China from thinking that they can take Taiwan over just overnight,” he said.
Beijing provoking ‘hatred’
Beijing has long dreamed of reuniting Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. In a nationalistic speech in March, President Xi Jinping described unification as “the aspiration of all Chinese people,” while during a visit by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis in June, Xi said China would not give up “any inch of territory.”
But Wu said China’s actions against Taiwan were undermining any support for Xi’s reunification efforts and turning public opinion against Beijing.
“They say they want to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese people but what they’re doing … is to create hatred among the regular Taiwanese people of the Chinese government. It is pushing Taiwan further and further away,” he said.
Early in the Trump administration there were questions over whether Taiwan would be used as a pawn between Washington and Beijing, given the latter’s keen interest in returning the island to the fold.
But more than a year-and-a-half later, Wu said Taiwan is pleased with the growing closeness of Taiwan US relations under the Trump administration.
“President Trump maintains very good relations with Taiwan … they told us that they believe Taiwan is not tradeable, and democracy is not tradeable,” he said.
Asked whether President Tsai, leading the traditionally pro-independence DPP party, would push for Taiwan independence, Wu said Tsai was determined to maintain “the status quo” with its mainland neighbor.
“We want to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait … By itself, Taiwan exists outside China, Taiwan exists by itself, so there’s no need for Taiwan to go beyond what it is right now,” he said.
As part of their campaign of pressure, the Chinese government has been slowly chipping away at Taiwan’s small number of remaining diplomatic allies around the world. In May, both the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso severed ties with Taipei in exchange for Beijing.
But despite their dwindling number of allies globally, Wu insists the Taiwan government is not preparing for a time when they no longer have any diplomatic partners.
“Some countries (who switched) are coming back to us and saying they didn’t get what China promised, they didn’t get what China promised financially and they’re not getting what China promised politically,” he said.
“What China gave them is something which is easily destroyable.”
The most symbolic country which still recognizes Taipei over Beijing is the Vatican, the tiny nation home to the leadership of the Catholic Church.
In the past six months, rumors have leaked out suggesting the Holy See might be considering switching its allegiance to the Beijing government but Wu said Taiwan still hoped the Vatican could remain their diplomatic partner for the long term.
“We stay in very close contact with Vatican officials, telling them what they want is to allow freedom of religion to prevail in mainland China, and Taiwan has been serving as a beacon in that aspect,” he said.
“Therefore maintaining good relations with Taiwan is the key to have Taiwan as an example to the Chinese people, especially Chinese Catholics, that they can have freedom of religion one day.”