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Alumni Spotlight: Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Taiwan

November 23, 2022

Alumni Spotlight: Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Taiwan

Joseph Wu Headshot in front of Taiwan flag

Interview by Sara Werling-Waldron

Dr. Jaushieh (Joseph) Wu (PhD, 1989) currently serves as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan under President Tsai Ing-wen since February 2018. He was formerly the Secretary-General to the Office of the President and the Secretary-General of the National Security Council of the Republic of China. From 2007 to 2008, he was Chief Representative to the United States as the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. He received his PhD in political science in 1989 at The Ohio State University and was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2008. He served as a research assistant in the political science department and as deputy director of the Institute of International Relations of the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

1. How has Taiwan’s relationship with other major players in Asia evolved over the last 20 years?

“Taiwan was a highly authoritarian state until 1996 when we held the first presidential election,” remarks Minister Wu. “In the last few years because of Taiwan’s democracy, other like-minded countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, etc., started looking at Taiwan from the value base, since we share the same values of freedom, democracy, and the protection of human rights. The current state of relations between Taiwan and major democracies in this region have been rather good. The kind of relations, even though it hasn’t spilled over to the political level to a large extent, the overall relations are very warm.”

Minister Wu points to the close relationship between the Japanese people and the Taiwanese people. He asserts that by and large the Japanese people would most likely cite Taiwan as their favorite country and likewise, the Taiwanese have reciprocal warm affections for the Japanese people.

Beyond their regional sphere, Taiwan is expanding relations with other countries in Europe and North America all based upon its shared commitment to democracy. Taiwan has been a staunch supporter of core democratic values.

“If you ask me what the most important principle of Taiwan’s foreign policy is, I say it is that [democratic] value. We treasure the value and will work together with other like-minded countries to promote Taiwan’s values of freedom, democracy, protection of human rights and the rule of law.”

2. [Background: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a trade agreement comprising twelve nations, including the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. The purpose was to increase multilateral trade among its member states. It was negotiated under President Barack Obama but was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. On President Trump’s first day in office, he signed an executive order to withdraw the United States from the TPP and stated that his administration will negotiate trade deals on a country-to-country basis. Since then, a new international economic pact has evolved without the U.S. participation named the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).]

What is your view of TPP/CPTPP and its impact on Taiwan? What is Taiwan’s reaction to the U.S.’s unwillingness to participate?

Minister Wu emphasizes three main reasons why Taiwan’s membership in the TPP and now the CPTPP would benefit Taiwan.

“There are several dimensions to this grand architecture of the trade bloc. On a strategic level, we think that it is very bold that we group together some of the liberal economies in this region. It was initiated by the United States to extend the membership of the TPP. The United States was highly supportive of Taiwan joining the TPP at the beginning, which was toward the end of the Obama Administration. We were excited by this.”

This comes as no surprise and leads to the second dimension that China has consistently engaged for years in tactics to box out Taiwan.

“The second dimension is that China is trying to push us out of the international activities, international forums, and international organizations. Therefore, for Taiwan to be included in this trade [bloc] is very important” and helps to counterbalance China’s efforts to limit Taiwan’s international presence.

“The third dimension is since the TPP is following a very a high standard of trade and if we can group together countries that model that high standard, it is going to benefit each other and benefit the rest of the world as well.”

One of the concerns that the Trump Administration and members of Congress voiced was the potential adverse effect such a multilateral trade group would have on the U.S.’s work force. Minister Wu responds that key member countries like Japan, Canada, Australia would say, “We look forward to the United States’ participation. The U.S. has an employment force strong enough to take this CPTPP to a new stage that will benefit the rest of the members. At the same time, when trade is increasing, it is also going to benefit the United States itself.”

Minister Wu is grateful for other countries that stepped up when the U.S. withdrew from the TPP.

“Fortunately, Japan [along with Canada and Australia] picked up the effort and is becoming a leading authority in promoting the CPTPP. Taiwan has already tendered its application to become a member of the CPTPP; we are in the process of consultation. We are regarded as a country that already fulfills a very high standard of trade, so therefore, Taiwan should be welcomed into the CPTPP.”

The UK has applied for membership also.

“We were told that Taiwan has to wait patiently until the UK becomes a member.” Then the CPTPP members will review other applications, including Taiwan’s.

3. [Background: The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is the largest and most valuable semiconductor manufacture in the world. Sixty-five percent of the world’s semiconductors and almost 90% of the advanced chips come from Taiwan.]

How will the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act affect Taiwan? What is Taiwan doing to encourage further investment?

“TSMC is a world-class producer of semiconductors, and we are very proud that Taiwan can house the TSMC.”

As proud as Taiwan is for being at the epicenter of this valuable semiconductor industry - especially considering the worldwide shortage during the pandemic - Minister Wu is quick to point out that their success goes beyond just the one company TSMC. He describes the vast operations and prevalent science parks underpinning TSMC as “a whole ecological sector.” Naturally, many countries approach Taiwan in hopes that TSMC will set up facilities in their countries.

Minister Wu contends “countries can’t simply replicate TSMC or replicate the science part that fast. It took Taiwan almost 40 years to be where we are. It takes all kinds of conditions to be where we are today. It’s not going to work that way. It is a whole ecological sector, [including] an upstream material supply, designers, producers, education, testing and packing.”

Furthermore, Minister Wu notes that “if the United States or Japan want to work with TSMC to set up a plant, there has to be certain conditions met in order for that kind of operation to be successful.”

Currently Taiwan is working with the State of Arizona on developing a semiconductor presence in the United States. He reasons there needs to be an attractive incentive package and enough engineers to make it operational.

“We are trying to work together with the United States to train engineers in Taiwan’s semiconductor institutes. There would also be other supporting industries coming together to become a supply chain or to become an ecosystem. It won’t be just TSMC going to Arizona; it would be a cluster of industries going to Arizona.”

He recognizes the need and benefit to the United States to develop a semiconductor supply, especially for sensitive areas like the U.S. Defense Department.

4. How would you describe Taiwan’s relations with China as it stands today?

Minister Wu frankly states, “It’s not good. China has been threatening Taiwan. Let me describe what things are like coming from Taiwan’s perspective: In 2020, the Chinese Air Force flew 380 sorties that crossed into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. And we thought that was very threatening. But last year in 2021, [they flew] 970 sorties, which is more than double in 2020. But for this year, in August and September alone, it’s already exceeded that number; therefore, it is very threatening to Taiwan. If we look at the Chinese military activities, their preparations, or their modernization efforts, they are trying to be ready for an attempt against Taiwan. That is something we must face in a very serious way . . . and so we’ve been discussing with the United States in a very close way on how to increase Taiwan’s defense capabilities to make sure China does not have the illusion that it can take Taiwan over very quickly.”

Another area in which Taiwan feels Chinese pressure is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The international community recognizes Taiwan as a democracy “but that doesn’t translate into diplomatic relations. We don’t have diplomatic relations with the United States, Japan, Canada, the UK, etc., and therefore, all these countries are not able to support Taiwan to become a member of the UN, ICAO, WHO, etc. Even all these like-minded partners support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organizations, but it is still very difficult for Taiwan to play a role on the international stage and that is because China has been trying to squeeze us out of international parity.”

Taiwan’s peculiar international status is due to the 1971 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, which China claims recognizes the one-China principle of Taiwan being part of China. On September 25, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pronounced in an address at the UN: “Only when China is completely reunified can there be enduring peace across the Taiwan Strait. Any scheme to interfere in China's internal affairs is bound to meet the strong opposition of all us Chinese, and any move to obstruct China's cause of reunification is bound to be crushed by the wheels of history.”

“It’s very sad that China can twist all these international resolutions to legitimize its threats against Taiwan or use of force against Taiwan. But if you ask the Foreign Minister of Taiwan – a faithful Buckeye! – we never give up!” Minister Wu is very passionate about calling on fellow democratic friends “to make sure they understand Taiwan and will support Taiwan’s inspiration to make contributions to the international community. Fortunately, we have been regarded by the international community as a force for good . . . and the support for Taiwan participating in international affairs has been increasing.”

5. What do you believe are China’s intentions in the East and South China Seas?

Minister Wu believes Chinese activities in the East and South China Seas are two examples of China’s authoritarian expansionism, starting with Hong Kong and Taiwan but reaching into the Indian Ocean and even the Pacific.

“In 2020, China imposed the National Security Law of Hong Kong. China took away every bit of freedom and openness from the regular Hong Kong people. This means no more democracy advocates. Everyone is either ousted or taken to jail. It was very sad when it happened in front of our eyes. Will China stop at Hong Kong? The answer is ‘no.’ If we are not able to stop China from doing what they were doing to Hong Kong, they’re going to take it a step further. And that step is likely going to be Taiwan. And now they are threatening Taiwan militarily in a very dangerous way. Will China stop at Taiwan if they were able to take Taiwan over? I can tell you frankly, ‘no’, it is not going to stop at Taiwan. It [China] is going to keep going, until we stop it.”

Minister Wu categorizes China’s actions in the East China Sea as a “classic case of expansionism.” The East China Sea contains a disputed area of water that used to be administered by Japan. In 2014 the Chinese started to claim this body of water as theirs and now they send official ships daily to this region, chasing away Japanese fishing boats.

The Foreign Minister asserts that “Japan opposes any unilateral change of status quo by force, because they feel the heat coming from China.”

According to Minister Wu, “The South China Sea is even more dangerous. The Chinese Navy or Air Force will often conduct unsafe, unprofessional, dangerous, and provocative activities against regular, peaceful civilian patrols. China has claimed the whole body of water [in the South China Sea], and now they are trying to take actions to realize it.”

The Chinese naval presence goes far beyond the China Seas and into the Pacific.

“Chinese regular military exercises are conducted to the east of the first island chain, close to Guam and Hawaii. Their [China’s] ambition is the whole Pacific. In May China signed the security agreement with the Salomon Islands, which is very far from China - but very close to Australia.”

Furthermore, along the Indian Ocean, China has a “string of pearl strategy” to secure naval harbors in strategic locations such as Cambodia, Miramar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and all the way to Djibouti.

Sri Lanka is paying the price of their financial venture with China. After Sri Lanka defaulted on its $1Billion loan from China to build a port, China foreclosed, seizing the Hambantota Port on the busy Indian Ocean.

“Sri Lanka had to declare bankruptcy, but the Chinese government does not care,” claims Minister Wu, “because they had already secured the Hambantota Port for 99 years.”

“This [authoritarian expansionism] is something fellow democracies need to pay attention to. The only solution or option for fellow democracies is that: We need to unite to stop the authoritarianism from expanding further.”

6. How do you describe Taiwanese relations with the Biden Administration?

“The relations are very strong, very good, very solid. The kinds of interactions between the Taiwanese government and the Biden Administration are so frequent, so strong . . . But the Biden Administration is not the only administration that has had good relations with Taiwan. The Trump Administration also had very robust, very strong relations with Taiwan. From my own perspective, I had very good relations with the National Security Council officials, State Department officials, and Pentagon officials, etc. That kind of legacy carries on with the Biden Administration.”

“We not only enjoy support coming from the Administration, but also coming from Capitol Hill.” This was very evident in early August when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led a Congressional delegation to Asia, making a controversial stop in Taiwan. In retaliation to the highly publicized visit, China launched multiple ballistic missiles and increased their military drills, naval and air exercises in waters near Taiwan. Despite this, Taiwan continues to receive U.S. support (though still not official diplomatic status) per the first passed in Congress in 1979. It declares U.S. policy is "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.”

Minister Wu quips members of Congress will tell him that “they debate with each other on everything. They virtually cannot agree on anything – the Republicans and Democrats – but they agree on one thing. And that is Taiwan.” He is confident that no matter who will be in the Presidency in the future “we will continue to enjoy that high degree of support.”

7. What lessons do you take from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s determination to defend its own sovereignty?

“The situation is rather similar to this part of the world. We weren’t able to stop the Chinese from the National Security Law of Hong Kong. In Ukraine the world wasn’t able to stop the Russians from taking over Crimea in 2014. And when [Russia and China] see they can do something virtually without opposition from the international community, this is going to embolden the dictators, the autocrats, to do more and further expand. This is the situation we see in Ukraine. We learned the lesson from that and therefore, we continue to tell the international community to look at Chinese ambition. Taiwan is not the only victim of China.”

“The Ukrainians were very brave and very determined to push out the invaders, and that is something that we are learning from. The whole security apparatus in Taiwan has been examining how the Ukrainians have been fighting this war. Of course, the determination is one thing. Luckily, we see the Taiwanese people are more determined than [ever] before. Seeing the war atrocities in Ukraine, more people are willing to fight for [our] country if China attacks Taiwan.”

He also points to Ukraine’s asymmetrical war strategy, using “small, mobile weapons” and a highly decentralized military that is nimble against Russia’s big army.

“We are engaged in rapid and very serious military reform over here, and hope that we can do what the Ukrainians have been doing on the warfront.”

“When we look at the situation of international support for Ukraine, that reinforces the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ determination to go out and seek international friendship and international support.” He speaks with optimism that Taiwan has been quite successful in garnering international support from individual countries and international forums like the G7 for its shared and steadfast commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and an opposition to a unilateral change of status quo by force. “We feel support right now and we hope we can continue to attract more international support to serve as a deterrent against the Chinese ambition.”

8. What do you recall best from your time at The Ohio State University? Was there a class or seminar at OSU that you feel most prepared you for a life of public service?

In the words of a good diplomat, Minister Wu answers, “Every course, every seminar.”

In particular, he recalls serving as a research assistant for Professor Aage Clauson as a most rewarding experience. He assisted Professor Clauson in the Polymetric Lab working on public opinion surveys and data analysis. This was Minister Wu’s first experience immersing in empirical research and he describes it as a “unique experience for me that stays in my life forever.”

He is grateful for the analytical training received at The Ohio State University. Although the issues before him now are of a much larger and consequential degree, he still uses those same skills honed in the Polymetric Lab to ask: “What is the problem? What caused this problem? How are we going to solve this problem?”

In 2008, Minister Wu returned to the OSU campus to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award. He was touched when his Professor of Japanese Politics Brad Richardson returned from retirement to present him with the award. Minister Wu also remembers Political Science Professors Bill Little and Richard Gunther, the latter who has traveled to Taiwan numerous times to conduct research.

9. Can you share some of the academic connections The Ohio State University has in Taiwan?

Minister Wu is proud that Taiwanese students continue to attain higher education at Ohio State. Presently, he says there are approximately 130 Taiwanese students enrolled at OSU and the Ohio State Alumni Association is a thriving and active organization among Taiwanese. Moreover, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education signed an MOU with the State of Ohio to promote educational exchanges among professors in both countries. Given the Taiwanese dedication to American higher education, it’s no surprise Taiwan ranks first in the world for the number of American- earned PhDs among Presidential cabinet members.

“I’m so proud of my Buckeye heritage.” He shares that when he has Congressional visitors, they usually read his background and say, “You’re a Buckeye!” to which he responds fervently, “Yes, and we beat Michigan every year!”

“I’m truly proud to be a Buckeye. I would consider the years at The Ohio State University – 6- 1/2 years – as the best years I ever had. The Ohio State education and the activities associated with the education has turned me into who I am today. Without Ohio State education, I would not be where I am today. Therefore, I am deeply indebted to The Ohio State University . . . Go Bucks!