Taiwan’s deputy foreign minister on tensions with China amid threatening military activity

The people of Taiwan will head to the polls this weekend for local elections. The vote comes as mainland China has ramped up threatening military activity around Taiwan, which it views as a break-away province. Nick Schifrin reports on the tensions in the region and U.S. involvement.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The people of Taiwan will head to the polls this weekend for local elections. But the vote comes as mainland China has ramped up threatening military activity around Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province.

    Nick Schifrin has more on these ongoing tensions in the region and U.S. involvement.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For years, the People's Liberation Army has been training and modernizing to meet what the U.S. says is a singular goal, be able to invade Taiwan and beat back any U.S. response by 2027, that date set by President, General Secretary, and Supreme Commander Xi Jinping.

    Last month, at the 20th Communist Party Congress, he reiterated his vow to reunify one way or another.

  • Xi Jinping, Chinese President (through translator):

    We insist on striving for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and with the greatest effort. However, we are not committed to abandoning the use of force and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But 2022 has provided Beijing a warning and Taiwan a model. A small, agile army can stand up to a superpower.

    Taiwan's military is one-tenth the size of China's. And the war in Ukraine has highlighted efforts to embrace an agile defense, with expanded missiles, improved air defense, and increased surveillance and reconnaissance.

    Last weekend, at the Halifax International Security Forum, I sat down with Taiwan's Deputy Foreign Minister Ming-Yen Tsai.

  • Ming-Yen Tsai, Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister:

    In Taiwan, we're watching the situation in Ukraine closely, and we will continue to beef up our defense, so as to raise the cost for the potential invasion from the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials recently visited Taipei, I was told, to talk about some of the lessons from the Ukraine war. What did they tell you?

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    In the battlefield of Ukraine, we can see it's very important you need to hold a solidarity to fight back.

    Even on a daily basis, we suffer military intimidation, economic coercion, political infiltration, cyber strike, disinformation campaign, and the international blockade.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You're increasing defense spending about 14 percent, up to 2.4 percent of GDP.

    A former Pacific commander in the U.S. told us that's not enough, that the U.S. shouldn't come to your aid until you can prove you will be able to lead your own resistance. Can you?

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    Yes, I think it will be never enough.

    But we need to use our limited resources in a very smart way. And that is the reason why Taiwan also carry on our reforms for our long-term military structure. And the purpose is to make Taiwanese military forces more resilient, more agile.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A Russian defeat in Ukraine, Ming-Yen Tsai says, would help deter Beijing.

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    It's very important for we — international partners to hold a spirit of solidarity to raise the price for Russia's invasion. If we failed, I'm afraid that China may copy that kind of model to do the same thing to its neighborhood.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Biden administration has approved six packages of military aid to Taiwan, along with trainers. But that training is limited to how to operate the weapons.

    You're not conducting field or fleet exercises. Do you think there should be?

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    We would like to have all kinds of contact and cooperation with our American counterparts between our military forces. That would be very helpful.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It sounds like you are asking for more training.

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    If we can have a little bit more, it will be welcome.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And are you concerned, or would you be concerned that that would actually provoke Beijing and make war more likely if the U.S. were to increase its training with Taiwan?

  • Ming-Yen Tsai:

    China only understands the language of power politics.

  • Anderson Cooper, CNN:

    So, you are saying the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if China was attacked?

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: Yes. Yes, we have a commitment to do that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On three separate occasions…

  • QUESTION:

    Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?

  • Joe Biden:

    Yes.

  • QUESTION:

    You are?

  • JOE BIDEN:

    That's the commitment we made.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    President Biden has rhetorically broken with four decades of U.S. strategic ambiguity about whether the U.S. will defend Taiwan.

  • JOE BIDEN:

    Our One China policy has not changed.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Last week, despite his own comments, he reiterated the U.S. — quote — "acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China."

    What does Taiwan expect the U.S. to do right now if Beijing were to invade?

  • MING-YEN TSAI:

    The first priority of Taiwan's conservation and expectation for the cooperation with the United States is to take some joint efforts to deter war, rather than to await the war from happening and then to take some joint action.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    I wonder if I could ask you about — go back to Ukraine and ask you about a fundamental lesson that some in the U.S. are taking about reducing the ambiguity of whether the U.S. would support Taiwan to deter war.

    Do you agree?

  • MING-YEN TSAI:

    What we sense in Taiwan is U.S. commitment to Taiwan security is becoming clearer than ever. So we will continue to use this momentum to deepen security partnership between our two sides.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    There is momentum, but would you rather see a change in U.S. policy giving up strategic ambiguity?

  • MING-YEN TSAI:

    Actually, Taiwan realized that it's our responsibility to safeguard our sovereignty and democracy.

    So, we will continue our endeavor to beef up our defense capacity. And we would also invite stronger support of our international partners, so as to make Beijing understand that Taiwan is not alone.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Deputy Foreign Minister, thank you very much.

  • MING-YEN TSAI:

    Thank you so much to be here.

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