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‘The more they bully us, the more we need friends’: Taiwan’s envoy to the US welcomes further visits

Taiwan diplomat to the U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim
Greg Nash
Taiwan diplomat to the U.S. Hsiao Bi-khim is interviewed by The Hill at Twin Oaks Estate in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.

Taiwan’s highest-ranking official in the Unites States says China’s aggressive behavior in response to visits by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other U.S. officials will only draw the island closer to its allies.

“The more they bully us, the more we need friends,” Bi-khim Hsiao said in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, just hours before the U.S. and Taiwan announced plans to formally begin trade negotiations early this fall.

Hsiao, Taiwan’s representative to the U.S., isn’t shying away from the trips even though China has answered them with military drills and angry rhetoric. In fact, she welcomes more. 

“We are very concerned and worried about China’s provocative, reckless, and irresponsible actions that are extremely dangerous,” Hsiao said.  

“But then again, as a victim of their bullying, we’re not going to go out and say, ‘We don’t want friends. Stop visiting us.’”

Hsiao’s remarks punctuated weeks of heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over Pelosi’s trip. The Speaker became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in more than two decades earlier in August, and that trip was followed by five-member bipartisan delegation to Taiwan earlier this week.  

The visits have demonstrated U.S. support for Taiwan in the face of rising threats from China.  

Beijing has reacted by staging military drills around Taiwan, moving to suspend cooperation with the U.S. on climate change and other issues, and slapping sanctions on Taiwanese officials, including Hsiao.  

“If they think sanctions will restrict our pursuit of international space or stifle our voices, they are wrong,” Hsiao told The Hill. “We will not be silenced by these sanctions.” 

She argued that China with its actions has inspired more international support for Taiwan.  

“They are the ones that are stirring up a lot of attention and they are also, ironically, promoting greater sympathy and interest in visiting Taiwan from the international community, and China needs to be held accountable for their own behavior,” Hsiao said.  

Taiwan is a self-governing democracy that Beijing has long claimed is part of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has indicated China is prepared to take Taiwan by military force if necessary.  

The U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as independent but does provide it with defensive assistance, and the two countries have a substantial but unofficial relationship. 

U.S. officials have grown concerned about the prospect of China invading Taiwan, and the White House has warned China that its military activity near the island threatens peace and stability in the region. 

President Biden acknowledged weeks before Pelosi’s trip was made official that the military had concerns about it, but the Speaker decided to go ahead with the visit.  

Hsiao said Wednesday that the Taiwanese people have embraced the congressional trips, which have occurred for years but picked up recently as China’s threats to the island have multiplied.  

“It’s a constant struggle for us to be seen and heard and have a presence internationally,” Hsiao said. “By trying to suffocate our international space, China is actually prompting an even greater desire of the Taiwanese people to have these friends.”

Hsiao said that China’s military drills around the island threaten to disrupt commerce in the region, given that they have been taking place near busy commercial routes.   

“Any escalation or dangerous behavior has a potential consequence of impacting global commerce and I think China, as a sizable presence in the region, should also show their responsibility of maintaining stability instead of provoking potential friction and tensions,” she said. 

The White House has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s trip as a pretext for applying more pressure to Taipei.

“China has overreacted, and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing, and unprecedented,” White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell told reporters last week.

Biden raised eyebrows back in May when he said that the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense if it were invaded by China, apparently stepping away from the long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan. The White House quickly clarified that the president’s remarks — not the first time he has made such a comment — did not reflect a change in U.S. policy.  

Asked about Biden’s comments, Hsiao said Wednesday that “the people of Taiwan welcome strong commitments.” She also made clear that Taiwan must be prepared for the worst when it comes to China by fortifying its defenses.  

“We want peace and we will exert as much effort as possible to preserve the peace the stability and the status quo in the region, but we also have to be prepared for the worst and that is potentially very dangerous scenarios,” Hsiao said. 

Hsiao said that Taiwan needs develop a hybrid toolkit for responding to a multipronged threat from China that also bleeds into the economic and cyber realms.  

Hsiao, speaking before news broke of Washington-Taipei trade talks, said she hoped discussions on a prospective trade pact between the U.S. and Taiwan would be “expedited,” citing deeper economic ties with the U.S. as another way to push back on China’s behavior.

Tags China Cross-straight relations Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Taipei Taiwan
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