The AP interview: Envoy says Taiwan is learning from war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — Taiwan has learned important lessons from the war in Ukraine that would help it deter any attack by China or defend itself if it were invaded, the self-governed island’s top envoy to the U.S. said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

One of the lessons: do more to prepare military reservists, as well as civilians, for the kind of whole-society fight that Ukrainians are waging against Russia.

“All we are doing now is to prevent the pain and suffering of Ukraine’s tragedy from being repeated in our scenario in Taiwan,” said Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative in Washington.

“So ultimately we try to discourage the use of military force. But in the worst case, we understand that we need to be better prepared,” said Hsiao.

Hsiao spoke at the quiet, more than 130-year-old hilltop mansion that Taiwan uses for official functions in Washington. She spoke of a series of Taiwan-U.S. military, diplomatic, and trade ties created by rising rivalries with China.

No Taiwanese flag flew over the building, indicating Taiwan’s intermediate status as an ally of the US, which nevertheless lacks full US diplomatic recognition. The US repealed that in 1979, the same day it recognized Beijing as China’s sole government.

The interview came after a year of heightened tensions with China, including China’s launch of ballistic missiles over Taiwan and the temporary suspension of most dialogue with the US after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.

When asked whether the new Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, should honor his earlier commitment to also visit Taiwan, Hsaio said. “That will be his decision. But I think the people of Taiwan have finally welcomed visitors from all over the world.”

Beijing’s leadership, she added, “has no right to decide or define how we interact with the world.”

Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 during a civil war, is claimed by China. The decades-old threat of China invading the self-governing island has intensified since China cut communication with the island’s government in 2016. full independence.

In Washington, Taiwan’s self-government is an issue strongly supported by both parties.

For decades, US governments have had a policy of not saying whether the US military will defend Taiwan if China invades. China’s show of military force after Pelosi’s visit had some in Congress suggesting it was time for the US to abandon that policy known as “strategic ambiguity” and instead make it clear that Americans would stand alongside Taiwan. fight.

When asked about those calls Friday, Hsiao only praised the existing policy.

“It has kept the status quo for decades, or I should say it has kept the peace,” she said.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly volunteered in public comments for the US to come to Taiwan’s defense, only to have aides come back with assurances that strategic ambiguity still reigns.

Meanwhile, after seeing the Ukrainians’ successful hard scrabble defense against invading Russian forces, Taiwan is realizing it needs to load Javelins, Stingers, HIMARS and other small, mobile weapons systems, Hsiao said. The Taiwanese and Americans have agreed on some of them, she said.

Some security think tanks accuse the US – and the defense industry – of spending too much of the country’s billions of dollars in arms deals with Taiwan on advanced, expensive aircraft and naval vessels. China’s more powerful military could be expected to destroy those major targets at the start of an attack on Taiwan, some security analysts say.

Taiwan is doing everything it can to ensure that a shift to grittier, less technical weapons supplies for Taiwan’s ground forces “happens as quickly as possible,” Hsaio said. Even as the US and other allies pour billions of dollars worth of such weapons into Ukraine for active combat there, straining global arms supplies, “our friends in the United States have assured us that Taiwan is a very important priority” , she said. .

Domestically, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced last month that the government is extending compulsory military service for men from four months to a year, and that Taiwan is increasing defense spending. Hsiao would not directly comment on a report from Nikkei Asia on Friday that members of the US National Guard had begun work training in Taiwan, saying only that Taiwan was exploring ways to work with US Guard members to combat the improve training.

Ukraine’s experience has also provided lessons for the US and other allies, she said, including the importance of a united allied position behind threatened democracies.

“It is critical to send a consistent message to the authoritarian leaders that violence is never an option…violence will be met by a strong international response, including consequences,” Hsiao said.

Hsiao also spoke of the United States’ pressure under the Biden administration to boost US production of computer chips. Supply chain disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic have underlined the critical importance of semiconductors to the US economy and military – and the extent to which the US is dependent on chip imports.

Increased production in the US will push the country into more direct trade competition with Taiwan, which is a world leader, especially for advanced semiconductors. Concerns that China could hinder semiconductor shipments across the Taiwan Strait have prompted the United States to launch new manufacturing efforts.

Hsiao pointed out that Taiwan’s computer chip industry took decades to develop and expressed confidence that it “will continue to make an indispensable and irreplaceable contribution to global supply chains for decades to come.”

Noting Taiwan’s $40 billion investment in a new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Arizona, a project big enough for Biden to visit the site last month, she expressed frustration at what she called a continued U.S. financial penalty on Taiwanese companies that doing business in the United States.

The United States’ diplomatic non-recognition of Taiwan as a country means that Taiwan – unlike China and other top US trading partners – has no tax treaty with the US and therefore pays additional taxes.

Overcoming hurdles to be resolved would make business investment between the US and Taiwan “much more successful and sustainable in the long run,” she said.

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