Voicing concern about a possible Chinese invasion of his country, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warned Israel – in an exclusive interview on Monday – from relying too heavily on China.
“China is an authoritarian country and they do business in a very different philosophy,” Wu told The Jerusalem Post in a video interview from his office in Taipei. “Sometimes they use trade as a weapon, and we have seen them practicing their weaponized trade relations with many other countries.
“They did it to Lithuania, they did it to the Czech Republic and they also did it to Australia. Sometimes they try to do that to Taiwan as well. So, when we do business with an authoritarian country, we need to be very careful. We shouldn’t allow these kinds of business relations to jeopardize our national security. And I understand pretty well that Israel also places national security very high on the government agenda,” he continued.
"We shouldn't allow the kinds of business relations to jeopardize our national security. And I understand pretty well that Israel also places national security very high on the government agenda."Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu
Israeli-Taiwanese relations are complicated, mostly due to Israeli concerns that overt diplomatic ties with the island nation will upset China, one of Israel’s largest trade partners. Earlier this month, for example, the Foreign Ministry reportedly ordered Israeli diplomats stationed around the world to refrain from inviting Taiwanese officials to Israeli events or from participating in events organized by Taiwanese diplomats.
Another sign of the sensitivity is that Wu cannot visit Israel in his official government capacity. In addition, Taiwan’s top diplomat based in Israel – Ya-Ping (Abby) Lee – is referred to as a “representative” and not an ambassador.
According to Wu, the Chinese military threat against Taiwan has been “increasing tremendously” in recent months.
On Monday – just before he sat down for the interview – Wu said that around 18 Chinese jets crossed into Taiwanese economic waters on its southern front. He said that over the last year, China has flown 972 sorties into Taiwanese air-defense identification zones and more recently, deployed an aircraft carrier strike force to the east of the island. Taiwan, he added, is the number one target of Chinese disinformation efforts and cyberattacks.
“This is a rapidly expanding authoritarianism and Taiwan happens to be on the front line,” Wu said.
The source of Chinese aggression, he said, comes down to the battle between democracy and authoritarianism. “If you look at China and its expansionist mode of authoritarianism, it is very clear and it has left its footprint almost everywhere in this part of the world. Other than Taiwan, they have also tried to infiltrate into the East China Sea, the place that is disputed by China, Taiwan and Japan. They’re sending fleets into the disputed area on a daily basis. And they also try to take control of the whole South China Sea,” he said.
The interview with Wu came just a week after US President Joe Biden warned that China was “flirting with danger” over Taiwan, and promised to intervene militarily to protect the island if it is attacked.
“If China attacks Taiwan, we have the responsibility to defend ourselves,” Wu said on Monday. “But during this period of time, we hope the United States can engage in more security cooperation with Taiwan to work together with our military, to train our military, to provide us with the adequate defensive articles so that we are able to defend ourselves.”
Wu’s concern, he said, is that the Chinese are learning the wrong lesson from the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m not sure whether the Chinese leaders are rational in making their own decisions. What we are seeing recently is that they seem to be gearing up a military threat against Taiwan. They seem to be trying to project their forces far beyond Taiwan,” he said. “And, therefore, it seems that China has been drawing the wrong lesson, and it seems to be trying to examine what went wrong in the Russian warfare against Ukraine to improve themselves. And if they do that, I think their determination to go after Taiwan is going to be stronger.”
To counter the Chinese threat, Wu said that Taiwan is working on multiple fronts – preparing militarily and diplomatically and trying to “make friends with as many people as possible.”
“For example, we are trying to expand our friendship with Eastern European countries and with the Baltic states and we are also trying to strengthen our relations with Canada, Australia, Japan, and more,” he said. “Israel is a like-minded country and therefore we want to make a better relationship with Israel.”
Israel, he added, was an inspirational country that Taiwan looks up to. He said that both nations can work together and learn from one another. Last July, Wu penned an op-ed in the Post together with Taiwan’s digital minister in which he called for increased cooperation with Israel, particularly in cybersecurity and emerging technologies.
“Talking about self-defense capabilities or determination to defend itself, Israel has been a role model in the last few decades, and we have been watching Israel with amazement from your ability to defend yourself and to build the kinds of weapons for your own self-defense,” he said. “And that is something that we want to emulate. So even though there’s not a whole lot of security relations with each other, our security experts have been looking at Israel.”
The countries, he noted, have already signed a long list of civil agreements – non-political, he stressed – that includes visa-free travel, standardization recognition and environmental protection cooperation.
“We share the same belief in freedom, democracy and the protection of human rights. And therefore, we are like-minded and we should engage with each other more,” he said, adding that even though ties are under limitations because of Israel’s relations with China, there is still more that can be done to strengthen Taipei-Jerusalem ties.
And he had this advice for Israel: “When dealing with China, you should never accept preconditions because once you accept preconditions, you lose no matter what... and when you worry about China getting angry and give in, or make pledges that you shouldn’t or make concessions, China also wins. A very prominent American diplomat told me that you must be doing something right when China gets upset. So don’t worry about China getting upset at you. When they get upset at you, that means you are doing something right.”