In this episode of COVIDcast, Natasha Kassam, Research Fellow at the Lowy Institute, sat down with Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Joseph Wu. Wu was appointed Foreign Minister by President Tsai Ing-wen on 26 February 2018. He was previously the head of the National Security Council, and the Chief Representative in the United States as the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington DC.

Taiwan, a thriving democracy of 24 million people, is often seen as a proxy for both the United States and China’s ambitions for the Asia-Pacific region. But lately, Taiwan has been making headlines for its success in the Covid-19 pandemic. In normal times, there are 500 direct flights and around 180,000 trips between Taiwan and China each week. Despite this proximity, Taiwan has contained the virus to around 400 cases, only seven fatalities and no community transmission for more than two months.

Wu says China has increased military pressure on Taiwan during the pandemic. With many other countries preoccupied in dealing with the pandemic, China may feel it has a freer hand in dealing with Taiwan. The military pressure also serves to divert domestic attention in China onto Taiwan, at a time where the economic slowdown in China may be driving social discontent.

 

In addition to longstanding economic and military pressure, Wu says, China has been increasing influence operations against Taiwan in the last two years. Whether we refer to these operations as “sharp power” or influence operations, China is pressuring businesses, thinktanks and universities to treat Taiwan as a part of China.

Wu says Hong Kong and Taiwan are two outposts of democracy. If the Chinese government can whittle away Hong Kong’s freedoms and human rights, then Taiwan will be next.

China has also been seeking to pressure Taiwan in other ways, excluding it from the World Health Organisation, and poaching diplomatic partners such as Solomon Islands and Kiribati in the Pacific. By making donations to other countries and sharing Taiwan’s experience in fighting Covid-19, Taiwan hoped to win more international friendship. Many countries that had never expressed public support for Taiwan had spoken up at the World Health Assembly in May.

Wu says Hong Kong and Taiwan are two outposts of democracy. If the Chinese government can whittle away Hong Kong’s freedoms and human rights, then Taiwan will be next.

 

COVIDcast is a podcast hosted by Lowy Institute experts to discuss the implications of Covid-19 for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Previous episodes are available on the Lowy Institute website. To stay up to date with the latest episodes of COVIDcast, subscribe to Lowy Institute Audio on Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or SoundCloud.