Taipei, Taiwan (CNN) — China’s threat to Taiwan is “more serious than ever,” but the island will stand firm to protect its freedom and democracy, including welcoming those who support it, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview. this Monday.
Wu’s defiant message came as China said it was continuing military exercises around the self-governing island, following a four-day show of force following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei. In the past week.
“China has always been threatening Taiwan for years and it is becoming more serious in recent years,” Wu said. “Whether President Pelosi visits Taiwan or not, the Chinese military threat against Taiwan has always been there and that is the fact that we have to deal with.”
Hosting foreign friends on the island was a key part of Taiwan’s strategy to counter China’s attempts to isolate it from the international community, regardless of possible reaction from Beijing, Wu said.
“(China) cannot dictate to Taiwan that we shouldn’t welcome anyone who likes to come and show support for Taiwan,” said Wu, who has served as Taiwan’s foreign minister since 2018.
Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan – the first by a sitting House Speaker to the island in 25 years – was vehemently opposed by China’s ruling Communist Party, which regards Taiwan as its territory even though it has never has controlled it.
Following Pelosi’s visit, Beijing ratcheted up pressure on Taiwan, including through economic sanctions, launching missiles on the island for the first time and drills that Taipei said were intended to “simulate” an attack on its main island and its navy.
Although these exercises were originally expected to end on Sunday, the exercises around Taiwan continued on Monday, according to a Chinese military announcement.
But while the live-fire drills raised global fears of possible military conflict, the atmosphere in Taiwan remained calm, with life going on as usual, with restaurants packed and public transport crowded.
For Wu, the threat makes it all the more important that Taiwan continue to build its international relations and show that it is not afraid.
“I am worried that China may launch a war against Taiwan,” he said. “But what he is doing now is trying to scare us and the best way to deal with it (is) to show China that we are not afraid.”
Pelosi in Taiwan
Although his trip was long discussed, Taiwanese authorities received only brief notice of his arrival, Wu said.
“As her trip is always subject to many considerations, especially security, we couldn’t find out until the last moment, when she finalized her plan,” Wu said, adding that Taipei knew of the itinerary a few days before, but not the exact time of her departure. arrival.
The visit by the president and an accompanying congressional delegation included meetings at Taiwan’s legislative assembly and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s office, where Pelosi said they were coming to send an “unequivocal message” that ” America stands with Taiwan.”
Wu said his most memorable impression of the trip was greeting Pelosi and the delegation at the airport, where she “showed her charm” saying she had been looking forward to their visit for a long time.
“And when he left, he said goodbye not only to me, but also to the ground staff, the security people and the people who had been taking care of the airport, one by one,” Wu said.
Asked if the United States would increase its support for Taiwan after the visit, Wu said the United States has always been “very supportive” of Taiwan, but the current support was “unprecedented.”
In an exclusive interview with CNN last October, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed the presence of some US military instructors in Taiwan, the first time a Taiwanese leader had admitted their presence since Washington and Taipei broke their ties. diplomatic ties in 1979.
However, the perception of US support sparked Beijing’s anger against the spokeswoman’s visit, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry issuing a statement after Pelosi’s arrival on Tuesday last week saying her trip would have a “serious impact on the political foundations of China-US relations” and “seriously undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Beijing announced the large-scale military exercises in what it said were six areas around the island of Taiwan quickly after Pelosi’s arrival, in response to what it saw as a violation of China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
While the US and many of its allies criticized the exercises, China defended its actions as “legitimate and justified”, saying that it was the US, not China, that was “the biggest saboteur and destabilizer of peace in the world”. the Taiwan Strait”, where China claims “sovereign rights and jurisdiction”.
The status quo is broken
Taiwan and China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago, in which defeated nationalists fled to Taipei. Taiwan went from an authoritarian regime to a democracy in the 1990s, and is now ranked as one of the freest jurisdictions in Asia by Freedom House, a US-based non-profit organization.
In recent years, as his power has grown, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made clear his ambition to “reunify” the island, by force if necessary.
Wu accused China of trying to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, including holding military exercises in recent days across the median line, the halfway point between the island and mainland China that has so far been an informal border but widely respected control between Beijing and Taipei.
Dozens of Chinese warplanes crossed the dividing line between Thursday and Sunday, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. Although the informal median line has largely preserved peace in the Taiwan Strait for decades, China now openly denies its existence.
“This kind of behavior is destroying the status quo and peace and stability in this region, and should not be accepted,” Wu said, adding that China had tried to declare the Taiwan Strait as its internal waters for “some time” before Pelosi’s visit.
This has implications beyond Taiwan, as China seeks to expand its influence in the Western Pacific, Wu said. But he added that he remained optimistic about the future.
“Democracy is going to prevail,” he said. “If you look at authoritarianism, it’s not resilient. It may look strong, and it may look like it’s spreading. But it’s not resilient and at some point it’s going to break.”
Asked if the situation could be called a crisis, Wu said that was ultimately up to Beijing.
“It depends on the willingness of the Chinese leadership to see if they want to continue relations with Taiwan … in a peaceful and stable way.”
Wu said he doesn’t know whether Chinese leaders “have made a decision” to use force to take Taiwan, but that Taiwanese officials were “looking at a number of different scenarios,” particularly out of concern that Beijing might try to divert the attention to internal problems by creating a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
“The important thing for us is that we have to be prepared,” Wu said. “We want to defend the freedom and democracy that we enjoy here. No one can take that away from us.”