By Emma Emeozor and Chris Orji
China’s President Xi Jinping had on July 28, 2022 warned President Joe Biden not to “play with fire” over Taiwan. The warning came during a hot exchange of words in a telephone conversation between the two leaders ahead of US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
It was a rare warning the US president chose to ignore as Pelosi eventually made the trip to the Island on August 3, 2022 to the embarrassment of Xi and his cabinet. Irked by the US action, China immediately launched a show of force, carrying out frightening military drills near the unofficial median line buffer with Taiwan. The military drills include test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei.
China also took what could best be described as embarrassing measures against the American government by cancelling a planned military dialogue with Washington. Theatre-level commands, defense policy coordination and military maritime consultations were among issues on the table for the dialogue.
Commenting, China’s defense ministry spokesperson, Wu Qian said: “The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the U.S. side on its own initiative, and the U.S. side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this. The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity.”
Interestingly, despite China’s threats, another set of American officials, this time, a 5-member Congressional delegation stormed Taiwan 12 days after the House Speaker’s visit.
While China is fuming and considering all available options to teach Washington a lesson and also clip the wings of Taiwan, Taipei is upbeat and encouraged to tackle Beijing following the goodwill Washington has continued to extend it. A section of international affairs experts have argued that China will not be able to neutralise US-Taiwan union because Washington has an “ambiguous policy toward Taiwan.”
According to this group, the policy and activities of Washington aim to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. They say this augurs well for Taiwan that wants the ‘excesses’ of China in the region curtailed to the minimum. They believe Taiwan sustaining its relations with US was, therefore, in the right direction.
But how does Taipei feel over the reaction of China, especially the military drills near its boundary. Is it considering reneging on its claim as an independent nation and come under Beijing’s rule? These were among the issues Taiwan’s envoy and representative of Taipei Trade Office in Nigeria, Andy Yih-Ping Liu tried discussed in a chat with Daily Sun.
Liu dismissed China’s threats with a wave of the hand just as he wondered why China was making noise over Pelopsi’s visit. He noted that the Speaker’s predecessor also visited Taiwan 25 years ago. “Why didn’t China make noise then,” he asked rhetorically.
He was unequivocal when he said Taiwan has come to stay as an independent nation, stressing that under no circumstance will it surrender its independence to China. He was quick to describe China as a bully and warned that Taiwan cannot be intimidated.
When asked what would Taiwan do if China decides to follow the footsteps of Russia that invaded Ukraine, Liu first raised his arms in a gesture to demonstrate the calamity that will befall China before he quipped: “If China’s jet fighters dare cross our airspace, we will shoot them down … we’re ready.”
He said nobody should be deceived to believe that Taiwan will be another Ukraine. “Yes, after Russia started bombarding Ukrainian cities, it was speculated that China will launch attack on Taiwan. But we were not bothered by such speculations because we know China dare not.”
The envoy was confident when he said: “However, we’re on full alert and we will shock China if . . . .” He dismissed the argument that Taiwan’s conviction that it can fight off China’s threats is informed by its friendship with Washington and its allies.
Rather, he wants China and its political leaders to know that though “Taiwan is a small country, we are strong enough to defend ourselves.” He said China will be calculating wrongly if it thinks that Taiwan is depending on US to defend it.
“Hopefully, someone will come to help but before help comes, defend yourself. Yes, America can help us but we do not want to bring America into our war,” he explained, adding that China’s bully behaviour is irritating leading nations of the world including US, Japan, Australia and India.
He recalled the history of Taiwan, its colonial and post colonial experience. “After World War II, we returned to our own government and a civil war followed. After the civil war, we had a totalitarian government.
“But now, it is self rule and we no longer have colonial masters, in the process, we have been able to develop a robust democracy which we have sustained till today. We conduct elections, vote in our leaders and vote them out, depending on their performance while in office and or the expiration of their tenure in accordance with the provisions of the country’s constitution.
“The current president, Tsai Ing-wen is serving her second term in office. The constitution allows only two terms of six years each for the president. So, at the end of her tenure, we will go to the poll to elect a new leader. This is democracy in a free society where the citizens exercise their freedom of expression and indeed enjoy their human rights as provided by the United Nations.
“What I’m saying in effect is that the socio-political gap between Taiwan and China is too wide to bridge. While Taiwan has developed and practiced full blown democracy for a decade, China is still promoting totalitarianism and this is the reason we do not feel like listening to a big bully which China is.
“In China, one man remains in office for years and the people have no choice. The citizens of Taiwan want democracy, they want to be free and be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression. They do not want to belong to China where leaders remain in power forever.”
He was emphatic when he said that Taiwan will not allow itself to become another Hong Kong in the hands of China. He lamented the situation in Hong Kong since Britain handed the territory to Beijing. “In less than five years when Britain handed the territory to China, it changed everything. The democratic legacy Britain left in Hong Kong has collapsed, the citizens are daily denied the freedom they enjoyed while under British rule, everything about human rights has been erased from the society.
“China has replaced democratic governance with totalitarian rule in Hong Kong. The citizens of Taiwan cannot afford to go back to those dark days that they do not even want to remember now. So, you see why Taiwan cannot unite with China. We’re a free society, ours cannot be mortgaged.”
Liu was excited to hear watchers of Beijing-Taipei affairs describe Taiwan as “small but mighty.”He said it was the right description of what Taiwan truly is. He was also upbeat when he compared the conflict between his country and China with the Biblical story of Goliath and David.
“The situation between China and Taiwan could be comparable to that of Goliath and David,” he observed. For him, China is Goliath, while Taiwan is David defending his people. He was optimistic that Taiwan will eventually defeat China and calm will return to the region.
Liu does not foresee any condition, be it economic, socio-political or science and technology constraints that will compel Taiwan to decide to unite with China.
He summarised the position of Taipei thus: “We’ve been ready for this . . . we’ve been ready for China for decades. So, we looked ahead and resolve to work hard for us to survive and sustain our democracy. Today, though we do not have natural resources, we’re strong in technology. We’re strong in manufacturing, our products including microchips are going places, and we’re able to sustain our economy such that the living standard of the people is encouraging. Even in agriculture, we have done well. So, we have come to stay as a nation and China cannot pull us down. Yes, we speak the same language, we have the same food but we have different mentality.
“We don’t even need a referendum to decide whether to unite with China or not. The process of referendum in Taiwan is cumbersome and of course, it is unnecessary because we are already an independent nation.
“All over the world, we’ve friends including Nigeria. Nobody should ask anybody to pick its friends. Nigeria was colonized by Britain, we were colonised by Japan, Nigeria attained independence and has since grown its own democracy and its citizens enjoy human rights, they enjoy freedom of expression, the media is strong and doing well, it’s the same story with Taiwan.
“Nigeria fought a civil war, we fought a civil war too but we do not want to fight another war. So, you can see that Taiwan and Nigeria have many things in common, many things to share for our mutual benefit. Our industrial and agricultural products are patronised by Nigerian business men. As we have trade office in Nigeria, so, also, Nigeria has its trade office in Taiwan. Taiwan is committed to sustaining its ties with Nigeria and see that the two countries advance together in all areas of development and growth.”