UPDATED at 10:15 A.M. EST on 2018-12-28
Joseph Wu, minister of foreign affairs for the democratic island of Taiwan, rose to prominence during the tenure of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Chen Shui-bian and has previously served as the island's unofficial trade and economics representative in Washington. He was appointed to his current position in February 2018, after serving as secretary-general to President Tsai Ing-wen and as secretary-general of Taiwan's National Security Council. Wu spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about the DPP's policies in a wake of heavy local election losses last month, which saw a resurgence of support for the national Kuomintang (KMT) in some regions, and about the strategic importance of ties with Washington. The following is an edited version of the conversation.
RFA: Will last month's election results affect Taiwan's foreign policy vis-a-vis the U.S.?
Minister Wu: There were actually a lot of factors at work in [the DPP's losses in] those elections, so this is a very good question. Some people have tried to explain those losses in terms of the cross-straits relationship [with mainland China], saying that Taiwan voters preferred pro-China candidates, but I think that's the wrong conclusion to draw.
If you look at the entire election campaign from start to finish, there was no debate about the cross-straits relationship at all; none at all. So the cross-straits relationship can't be used as an explanatory factor either during the campaign, or for the end result.
However, the DPP, as the ruling party, may need to exercise some vigilance. Some of the newly elected KMT representatives who have just won seats on district, county and municipal councils may be in a hurry to start establishing ties with China, and that could have a limiting impact on any ties or attempts at dialogue by the government as a whole. Now, that is a phenomenon that we are seeing at the moment.
RFA: Republican representative Ted Yoho said in a letter that the time has come to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign and independent state. Is Taiwan ready to join international organizations on that footing?
Minister Wu: The most important thing is to ensure that any participation by Taiwan is on an independent basis, and that Taiwan's rights and responsibilities are exactly the same as any of the other countries. If that is a possibility, then Taiwan will be willing to show a bit more flexibility.
As for Rep. Yoho's show of support for Taiwan, of course we are very grateful for that. Under the current situation, Taiwan is Taiwan, but the name of our country is the Republic of China, which currently controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, with a population of 23 million people. We have a democratically elected president and legislature. Those are realities that cannot be erased.
So it doesn't really matter if we call ourselves Taiwan or the Republic of China, or some other creative solution; there is still no way to change the reality of our independent existence.
RFA: Many countries in East Asia look to the U.S. for security, while they look to China to make money. There's even a joke about it. In what way is Taiwan's approach different?
Minister Wu: That phenomenon has always existed, and I don't see it changing any time soon. A lot of analysts say that Taiwan has put all of its economic eggs in one basket, but we can't use that as a model for Taiwan's economic and trading relationship with the rest of the world. Taiwan's economic ties with other major countries are also extremely important: for example, our ties with the U.S., with Japan and with the E.U.
On the security front, however, nothing can replace our relationship with the U.S. We have to buy our weapons from them, and then we have to have joint military exercises to train our own military forces, and when we have done that, we rely on the U.S. for the repair and maintenance of those weapons. That's why our security relationship with the U.S. is so close.
In the future, if the U.S. implements sanctions on the electronics industry [in mainland China], we in Taiwan could wind up with a more direct link to the industry in the U.S. which would be a pretty big benefit from our point of view.
Another thing we have to understand is that these new requirements the U.S. is imposing on China, including the end of forced technology transfer, which forces companies in fairly advanced countries to hand over technology [if they want to do business in China] and which could see China getting hold of very advanced technology without having to mobilize a single soldier.
If the U.S. forces China to change its trade practices, then that could benefit China's long-term development, as well as that of Taiwan and the rest of the world.
RFA: One of the biggest challenges facing the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen over the past two years has been diplomatic pressure. Can you give us an example?
Minister Wu: There are too many! They happen all the time. Three of our diplomatic partners have broken off ties since I took office, which has put us under a great deal of pressure. Apart from that, there are a number of countries friendly to us that we used to be able to visit, but now we can't.
China often uses the 1971 resolution at the United Nations — Resolution 2758 — to support the claim that Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China.
They don't only obstruct us at the U.N. as they use similar tactics to oppose our membership of international organizations such as Interpol ... and the World Health Organization (WHO). Taiwan already exists as an independent entity; we aren't ruled by China. So why would we go through China to participate in international organizations and events, as if we were a part of China. This is unacceptable to the people of Taiwan. And it is unacceptable to the current administration. Neither previous administrations nor future administrations are able to accept that Taiwan is a part of China or to participate in international organizations through China.
It is very frustrating that they keep misrepresenting our status as "Taiwan is a part of China" or "a part of the People's Republic of China," using the so-called "one-China principle" on the international stage.
RFA: So what can Taiwan do about that?
Minister Wu: In the past few years, we have had some strong support in the United States. For example, public statements have supported Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization, participation in Interpol, etc. They have also ... mobilized countries with similar ideas, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, or Europe, Japan, etc., all of which went to these international organizations to help us.
Recently, the airlines have been renaming us as a destination, and we have seen very strong statements from [Washington]. We maintain very close communications with the United States, and we share values with the United States. If we are supported by the United States and countries with similar ideas, then this can only improve.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei, Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Lee Tsung-han for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.