Ambassadors Archive 2

Taiwan; Striving Toward Healthy Relationships


An Interview with Taiwan’s US Representative, Jaushieh Joseph Wu

By Hugh Galford

Named Taiwan’s Representative to the US in April 2007, Dr. Jaushieh Joseph Wu has hit the ground running. Energetic and engaging, Wu will need a marathoner’s endurance because of the number of issues facing Taiwan and a sprinter’s speed because of the upcoming Taiwanese elections that could shorten his tenure here.

China looms large for Wu. The international community’s concerns about China — its economic growth, rising military power and role in the UN — impact Taiwan immediately. In 2001, Wu edited a volume titled China Rising: Implications of Economic and Military Growth of the PRC that dealt with these issues.

“China’s economic growth is a blessing to and for the rest of the world,” Wu says, “but with that economic rise, we see problems.” Beyond the external issues mentioned above, Wu points to the domestic factors of corruption and pollution. The basic solution to these issues, Wu holds, is “a legal framework for China.” Taiwan, he says, “can provide assistance with this.”

Working indirectly through NGOs, Taiwanese legal groups have traveled to China to review and suggest changes to the Chinese legal system. China, Wu says, is interested in the German legal establishment, and as Taiwan shares Germany’s continental-style legal framework, China “can learn from us.” China’s lack of a legal system “leads to a lack of redress.”

Furthermore, Wu says, China suffers from “a lack of responsive government institutions. The media, for example, are subject to government control. Without oversight, the government can do anything.” This problem extends beyond Beijing to the provinces.

“Local governments follow the central government’s example, and thus they cannot deal with pollution, the environment and air quality issues.” Wu notes that the average life expectancy of a traffic policeman in Beijing is about 47 years. Beijing has recently implemented “quick fixes”, such as trying to decrease the reliance of households on coal as a fuel, moving factories out of the city and limiting traffic by alternating days on which cars can enter the city.

These moves, Wu says, have produced “only minimal change.” The International Olympic Committee has even issued opinions that some events of the 2008 Summer games should not be held in Beijing. Outside the capital the situation is equally bleak. The World Bank estimates that 16 of the 20 most-polluted cities in the world are in China. And the Blacksmith Institute, in a 2006 report, cites Linfen City, in Shanxi Province, as perhaps the most polluted city in the world. Despite these findings, Chinese officials “consider activists more dangerous than environmental degradation,” Wu says.

Taiwan also has food and health issues concerning China. While US toy and food retailers recalled Chinese-produced items earlier this fall, and Japan inspects goods before they leave China, Taiwan is at a disadvantage. “It is easy for Chinese goods to be smuggled into Taiwan,” Wu says, given its proximity, “and for Taiwan to ask China for an inspection regime such as Japan has, government-to-government talks would be needed, and these are difficult, if not impossible.” Taiwan’s Ministry of Health conducts random inspections of goods from China and has found serious problems. The Taiwanese love crabs, and commercially import them from China. Individuals returning from China are also allowed to carry them back. Last winter, the Ministry found some crabs that had exceedingly high levels of antibiotics and banned crabs altogether. “We need to advise the Chinese government on food issues,” Wu says, “and help them develop a responsive government structure.”

Health concerns in Taiwan could be mitigated by their admission to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Taiwan has tried to apply for observer status at the WHO as the ‘Health Entity of Taiwan’ for over ten years, but this effort has gone nowhere.” Wu says that while China has ignored Taiwan’s efforts to depoliticize its participation in the WHO, “more countries are voicing support for Taiwan’s real, meaningful participation in the WHO.” The US has supported this publicly for the past several years, and is trying to coordinate with other countries, especially Japan, to push for universal support of Taiwan. Wu adds that Canada and European countries have become more supportive as well.

Full participation in the WHO still seems a distant goal for Taiwan, though. In 2005, the WHO implemented a set of International Health Regulations, under which information is forwarded to national “contact points”—Ministries of Health or Centers for Disease Control. Under the current system, Taiwan’s CDC is ignored by the WHO, which sees China as contact point for Taiwan.

The danger in this was seen in September 2007, when China was notified that shipments of baby corn from Thailand might be contaminated with a pathogen that could cause serious food poisoning. Despite being informed by the WHO on September 12, China delayed passing the information on to Taiwan for ten days.

“It should be against ethics that Taiwan is treated this way,” Wu says. “We must be treated the same, and our people’s health protected.”

In 2005 China and the WHO signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Taiwan: If Taiwan experts are to be included on WHO- related conferences, WHO needs to notify Beijing in advance.

“The more Taiwan shares in these works,” Wu says, “the more Taiwan looks like part of China. But if we don’t participate, our health suffers. The international community does not understand this.”

Tensions between Taiwan and the PRC extend to military issues as well. Taiwan’s attempt to purchase 60 F16s from the US to supplement their current 250 and to bolster their air defenses fell through in October. “The US needs to look at China’s air defense capacities,” Wu says. In addition to SU-27s, China has acquired SU-30s, one of the most advanced fighter-bombers, and has produced its own J10 planes.

Taiwan, Wu says, has seen a threat change from China. In part this is due to China’s budget increase. With double-digit economic growth, more is available for its defense budget. It is also due to the arms being deployed. In addition to augmenting its current 1000 short-range missiles that could reach Taiwan in six to seven minutes, China has purchased or developed intermediate-range and cruise missiles. While 12 to 16 submarines would be needed to blockade Taiwan, China has 40 to 50, and launched five nuclear-powered submarines early this year.

Since 2002, China has had a “decapitation” strategy against Taiwan. While Wu says the continuing military strategy may be because “the Chinese government recognizes internal problems it cannot deal with and needs a ‘scapegoat’ issue,” he also suggests that we should take a wider view. “Maybe Chinese leaders are more ambitious,” he says. “Maybe they want more than to take over Taiwan, and are preparing to become the hegemon in East Asia.” He notes that while the USS Kitty Hawk was on exercises, a Chinese submarine surfaced alongside it, and that “Chinese naval officials want a ‘Blue Water’ navy and an aircraft carrier by 2011.”

Wu also points to China’s TF31, a long-range (8000-12000 km) ICBM; the JL-2 SLBM, that would give it second-strike capability against a US target; and unmanned aerial vehicles developed with Israeli support.

“Some congressmen understand this well,” Wu says. “The problem for the US now is that it is caught in other places, and China can expand its military without scrutiny.” And while many feel that China can use its new-found power to provide solutions to issues ranging from Darfur to Myanmar, Wu holds that “China is a problem itself” in these same conflicts. China has sent 300 troops to Darfur to rebuild, Wu says, “but continues to send arms to Bashir and to get oil from the Sudan.” Even China’s role in negotiations with North Korea is suspect, Wu says. “Christopher Hill should be credited with the results. China got to host the talks, but the US was behind all the advancements. Throughout the negotiations, China provided the DPRK with food and fuel to keep the Kim regime in place.”

For Wu, with an MA from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and a PhD from Ohio State University, Taiwan and the US share common goals. He has two “Taiwan-US” wishes for his tenure in Washington. The first “is that China would become just another developed democracy. Taiwan’s relations therefore would not be a problem.” The second is to see a reversal of Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. “Taiwan has no diplomatic relations with the US. We have no official recognition. It is not dignified for a fellow democracy. We want normal relations with the US.”