'Taiwan not a provocateur,' foreign minister says to ex-U.S. official

02/23/2022 01:10 PM
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Image taken from the website of the McCain Institute for International Leadership
Image taken from the website of the McCain Institute for International Leadership

Taipei, Feb. 23 (CNA) Taiwan will not be a "provocateur" across the Taiwan Strait but continues to beef up its defense capabilities to protect its democratic way of life in the event of a Chinese invasion, its foreign minister told a former United States defense chief Tuesday.

"Taiwan is a peace loving country, and we want to maintain our stable line of rhetoric in thinking about cross-strait relations," Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said during an online appearance with Mark Esper, who served as U.S. secretary of defense in the Donald Trump administration.

"We don't want to be a provocateur in a cross-strait conflict," he said.

Tuesday's talk was one in a series of public conversations between Esper and experts on various issues related to challenges and threats to U.S. national security organized by the Washington-based think tank, the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

As Esper's guest in the series' latest installment, Wu was asked questions covering a wide range of issues, many of which focused on Taiwan's relations with China and how Taipei perceives Beijing's intentions.

'No if, but when China will attack'

Asked point blank if and when Beijing might invade Taipei, Wu stressed that to Taiwan it was not a matter of if, but when, as China has repeatedly threatened to take military action against the country.

"We don't count on, you know, the calculation of when that will happen, when the Chinese will attack Taiwan, but we are counting on ourselves to be prepared. Whether it's tomorrow, or next year, or 10 years from now, we will always be prepared," he said.

To achieve that, Wu said, Taiwan is increasing its defense budget to boost its asymmetrical warfare capabilities and defensive arsenal and also develop a civil defense system so that China understands it will have to pay a heavy price if it initiates a conflict against Taiwan.

Part of the calculation of any potential conflict between China and Taiwan is whether the United States would get involved, and Esper asked Wu about the policy debate in Washington on whether it should show strategic ambiguity or strategic clarity toward Taipei.

Wu said Taiwan saw no ambiguity in the U.S.' defense commitment to the country.

"So it doesn't really matter for Taiwan, what kind of symbol it is, whether clarity or ambiguity, the support is there. And we are seeing more and more support, and that is highly appreciated," he said.

"There used to be a 'Red team' (Republicans) or 'Blue team' (Democrats) in Washington D.C., but now it's all 'Taiwan team,'" he said.

From McCain Institute's Youtube channel

Meanwhile, asked about his view on the U.S. and other world powers recognizing Beijing over Taipei diplomatically, Wu said that such a policy is fine with Taiwan "even though we don't like it."

"And I think under your one-China policy or the one-China policy by other major partners of yours, we are still able to engage with each other beneath the level of formal diplomatic recognition," he said, noting that Taiwan's relations with these countries have strengthened over the years.

Taiwan's bid to join CPTPP

Esper also asked Wu about Taiwan's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), but the foreign minister's answer focused more on the U.S.' trade position.

He said he hoped the U.S. would reconsider rejoining the regional trade bloc to jointly guard against the expansion of China's authoritarianism, and reiterated Taiwan's hope of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) directly with the U.S.

In his remarks to open the interview, Esper said the U.S. and Taiwan are long-term friends and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and have shared history, values and common goals for decades.

The two countries' ties have been drawn even more closer in recent years amid growing military threats from China, he said.

Esper previously served as the U.S. secretary of the Army and acting defense secretary before he assumed the role as the chief of the Pentagon in July 2019.

He served in that capacity until he was fired abruptly by Trump in November 2020, having been reportedly at odds with Trump over several issues.

He is currently a distinguished fellow at the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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