Taiwan foreign minister pushes back at Beijing’s criticism of incoming President William Lai

Taiwan foreign minister pushes back at Beijing’s criticism of incoming President William Lai
  • PublishedJanuary 31, 2024

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, has rejected Beijing’s warning that the election of Taiwanese President William Lai would jeopardise the status quo between China and Taiwan.

“China does not have any jurisdiction over Taiwan. We have a president that is democratically elected,” Mr Wu said in an exclusive interview with 7.30.

“They are telling us that the election here in Taiwan is between peace and war and if we elect the wrong leader … it will mean war.

“This is an exercise of democracy. But China doesn’t accept that because China is an authoritarian country.”

A man waving in a crowd
William Lai was elected as Taiwan president earlier this month. (AP Photo: Louise Delmotte)

On January 13, Taiwanese voters rewarded the ruling DPP party with a third term, electing the 64-year-old Lai as president.

“Democracy should not be decided by an authoritarian regime, no matter how strongly they feel about the election … It’s about the people here,” Mr Wu told 7.30.

In the lead-up to the vote, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement reiterating Beijing’s opposition to “Taiwan independence”, attacking the ruling DPP party which Beijing accuses of championing the cause of separatism.

But Mr Wu says the president-elect is a “moderate” who “would like to maintain the status quo”.

Pacific countries ‘a target’ of China’s diplomacy

A series of Nauru flags fly in front of a palm tree.
Nauru was one of only a handful of nations that recognised Taiwan’s independent statehood.(AP: Jason Oxenham/pool photo)

Just days after Taiwan’s presidential elections, the Pacific Island nation of Nauru announced it was severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China.

Mr Wu says Nauru was an “easy target”.

“The Chinese government is always using economic enticement to secure diplomatic recognition of our diplomatic allies. And in the case of Nauru, I think the Chinese government is using that,” he said.

Asked whether “economic enticement” was also directed at individuals, Mr Wu said they didn’t have evidence of that occurring in Nauru but claimed it had happened elsewhere.

“That is usually what we see. The Chinese are engaging in something that we call ‘elite capturing’. They try to bribe political elites to secure diplomatic recognition,” he said.

Xi Jinping speaks.
Mr Wu has accused China of inflaming tensions with threats of military intervention. (Reuters: Noel Celis/Pool)

Twelve countries around the world formally recognise Taiwan and this week, attention turned to Tuvalu, the Pacific nation where the pro-Taiwan prime minister has just lost his seat.

But Mr Wu believes Tuvalu won’t follow into Nauru’s footsteps.

“I think the relations are quite solid,” he said. “At this moment, even though they just went through their national election, I believe that next prime minister, or their next candidate, will still be loyal to the relations with Taiwan.”

The foreign minister says the decision by Nauru is part of a pattern.

“China has been trying to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. They are trying to squeeze Taiwan out of the international organisations. They try to snatch our diplomatic ties,” he said.

“They try to pressure other countries to reduce their contacts and communication and friendship with Taiwan. But the world does not operate that way.”

Australia and Taiwan

A group of Australian and Taiwanese delegates pose for a photo in front of a large banner with images of both flags.
Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (centre right) meets with an Australian delegation visiting Taipei in September 2023.(Supplied: Taiwan Presidential Office)

Asked about Australia’s strategic alliance with the US via the AUKUS pact, Mr Wu said Taiwan wanted to see Australia play an important role in the region.

“We see that Australia seems to be determined to play a more significant role for the security in the Indo-Pacific. And this is a force for good,” he said.

“This is what we need for fellow democracies to guarantee this peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

Australia hasn’t had a formal ministerial visit to Taiwan since 2012, although parliamentarians have regularly travelled to Taipei. Mr Wu highlighted visits by Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison.

He said he’d welcome more frequent engagements, and even a visit by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

“This is a decision to be made by the Australian government,” he said. “Any kind of exchange between Taiwan and Australia will be welcomed by the Taiwanese government and people.”

Avoiding conflict

A close up of Xi Jinping wearing a suit looking over his shoulder in front of a flag.
Taipei says China has been trying to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. (Reuters: Florence Lo)

Mr Wu says Taiwan has been working to preserve the status quo but he accuses China of inflaming tensions with threats of military intervention.

“The general source of that peace and stability comes from Taiwan … Our like-minded partners, including Australia, have been taking concrete actions to deter the Chinese from using military force against Taiwan,” he said.

The foreign minister says a conflict over Taiwan would damage the world.

“The Taiwan Strait has about 50 per cent of the global goods floating through it. And therefore, if maritime transportation is interrupted, it will cause a problem for the rest of the world,” he said.

“And if the global supply chain is disrupted, you can imagine that the situation will bear more impact than the war in Ukraine.

“Xi Jinping wants reunification but Taiwan is a democracy.”

He says Taiwan and its partners should make it clear that military action “will not be accepted”.

“Taiwan is trying to beef up its defence capabilities. And the United States, Australia, Japan have also been trying to beef up their security capabilities as deterrence force against the PRC … so that China can understand that the defence capability or deterrence capability is there to meet the Chinese challenges.”


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