Taiwan’s usually reticent and publicity-shy ambassador emerged in a new avatar on Friday morning while briefing the media at a New Delhi hotel. The briefing had been called to protest and publicise China’s refusal to allow Taiwan entry into the World Health Assembly annual summit in Geneva later this month. This is the third time China has done so, obviously for political reasons, given that Beijing sees Taiwan as its own territory.
So the briefing provided Taiwan’s Ambassador Chung Kwang Tien an opportunity to pay back Beijing in some of its own coin.
“China has gone too far,” he warned, “it is seeking to block and suffocate Taiwan and bring us to our knees. Today our formal diplomatic relations cover only 17 countries. President Xi Jinping has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan. We are deeply vulnerable.”
But in his view, Taiwan’s problem with China was not its own. “If we allow a country to become so strong, so forceful it becomes everybody’s problem,” he said, pointing to the steady inroads Beijing had been making into the backyards of practically every country of note. The reference, apparently, was to the ambitious Belt & Road Initiative which is using China’s money, technology, enterprise and people to build infrastructure and in the process drive many countries into a debt trap, making them beholden to Beijing.
Ambassador Tien was not optimistic about reform or any positive change in China. “I see reform as unlikely so we have to continue doing what we are doing.”
In his view, the “Indo-Pacific is not important for just four countries. It is also important for a country like Taiwan which is a neighbour and responsible stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific and holds a strategic position in the First Island Chain. Taiwan is the missing link in the Indo-Pacific.”
The ambassador appeared to be hinting that Taiwan is a worthy candidate for membership of the Quad, currently comprising Australia, Japan, India and the United States. India however tends to see the Quad less in military terms and more as a a political and (hopefully) economic grouping. India has also refused to allow Australia to take part in the Malabar series of exercises, apparently because of its deep connections with China.
Ambassador Tien demanded restructuring of the United Nations Security Council, echoing an old Indian refrain that the body needed reform to reflect current realities. “The UN has over 200 members but only five countries have veto powers. That is too small a number to meet security requirements. India definitely can play an important role in this body.”
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