José María Liu, ambassador and representative of the Economic and Cultural Office of Taipei, spoke to ATALAYAR about China's expansionist ambitions a week after NATO considered the Asian giant a "challenge". The diplomat also discussed Taiwan's important technology industry and its relations with Spain.
Liu has been a diplomat for some 35 years. Spain was his first posting in the 1990s. He has also served as Ambassador to Paraguay, Ambassador to Panama and Deputy Foreign Minister of the Government of Taipei. Subsequently, Liu returned to Madrid, where he has been for more than three and a half years.
Is the Russian invasion of Ukraine for you a warning of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan?
The recent events following Russia's invasion of Ukraine are now the focus of attention not only in Europe, but around the world. And it is true that such regrettable and worrying developments are being experienced with particular concern in Taiwan, where we also feel the threat of a large, hegemonic and hostile neighbour hanging over our heads. We Taiwanese now know that the risk of war exists and that war may come, as it has come to Ukraine. Reality teaches us a stark lesson that something similar could also happen in Taiwan. But the resistance being shown by the Ukrainian people in the wake of the Russian invasion inspires the Taiwanese people and strengthens our commitment to continue to defend our freedom and democracy. We do not seek military confrontation, because we know that there are never winners in war. But we must be prepared to let China know that if it were to attack us, it would pay a heavy price for it.
Does Taiwan feel secure with the support it receives from the international community and, above all, what role do you think the United States should play vis-à-vis China?
Yes, especially because of the support we receive from the US and the European Union. On 7 June the European Parliament adopted a report favourable to Taiwan, the fifth so far this year, in which it expresses its concern about China's military activities in the Taiwan Strait and its "deliberate and repeated violations" of our air defence identification zone. The European Parliament considers that "Taiwan is a key democratic partner and ally in the Indo-Pacific region" and calls on the EU to strengthen its partnership with Taiwan to promote common values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As for the US role, US President Joe Biden declared last May in Tokyo that if China attempted to attack Taiwan, the US would be ready to respond militarily to defend ourselves. The US has repeated on numerous occasions that its commitment to Taiwan is "rock solid". Moreover, following the recent summit in Germany on 26-28 June, the G7 leaders stressed in a communiqué, as they did last year, the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and encouraged a peaceful resolution of Taiwan Strait issues. Finally, the new Strategic Concept established at the recent NATO summit in Madrid asserts that China strives to "subvert the international order", and that its coercive policies challenge NATO's "interests, security and values".
How is Beijing's claim to sovereignty over the waters of the Taiwan Strait interpreted in Taiwan?
This is a false claim, since the only sovereignty China has is the 12 nautical miles around its coast, as stipulated by international law. The rest of the waters in the Taiwan Strait are international waters. In fact, our government has always respected the activity of foreign vessels in the Strait's waters, which is permitted under international law. Beijing's claims are a retreat from international law and only reveal its hegemonic ambitions to annex Taiwan. Further evidence of them is that the Chinese military continues its threatening and intimidating manoeuvres, and its military aircraft continue to fly over our air defence identification zone.
What is Taiwan's economic potential today?
With a largely export-oriented economy, Taiwan is currently the world's 15th largest exporter and 18th largest importer. We rank 6th in the Index of Economic Freedom and 3rd best investment destination in the world. Taiwan ranks 7th in the latest world competitiveness rankings, according to the yearbook published on 15 June by the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development.
One of the key points of Taiwan's economic development is technology. What are the main developments in Taiwan's technology industry today?
Taiwan has become the leading global supplier and the key player in the world's chip supply chain, accounting for 63 % of the world chip market today. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) alone, Taiwan's technology giant, holds 54 % of the world chip market and 92 % of the more advanced chip market. In terms of medical technology, our scientists are currently making great strides in the application of 3D printing technology in healthcare. This type of technology, developed by the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Taiwan, makes it possible to produce sophisticated biomedical materials such as artificial bones, dental prostheses and even artificial skin, which has a more complex composition. The process is not only fast, but also allows a degree of customisation that optimally meets the needs of patients.
A Chinese aggression would affect the production and export of chips, so the whole world would be affected.
If there is aggression against Taiwan by China, chip production will be totally destroyed and this will affect the global chip market.
So we can say that Taiwan's stability is the technological stability of the whole world.
Yes, the stability of Taiwan is the stability of the chip production of the whole world. Taiwan is the number one chip producing country in Europe, especially advanced chips. The Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) holds 54% of the global chip market and 92% of the global market for advanced chips.
This aspect may cause interest among Spanish or European society to be concerned about what is happening in Taiwan, in addition to the ethical, social and human issues.
You are absolutely right. Because, although Taiwan is far away from here, it has a direct influence on the whole world, not only on Asia or the Indo-Pacific region, but also here in Europe.
Are relations between Spain and Taiwan going well?
Taiwan and Spain share values such as freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Politically, Spain follows the guidelines set by the European Union. Economically, our bilateral trade has been increasing, and in 2021 it was USD 2,491 million. We try to balance the 734 million surplus in favour of Taiwan through exports of the Spanish agri-food sector, especially of Spain's 'star products', such as pork, of which Spain is our main world supplier, olive oil, our second largest supplier, and wine, our sixth largest supplier. My mission since I arrived in Spain is for both peoples to get to know each other better, and for this we need the support of the media to promote exchanges of our enormous potential and cultural richness, as well as through our scholarship programme, which offers Spanish students the possibility of studying Mandarin Chinese, obtaining bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in our universities, and for professors and researchers to carry out research projects in Taiwan.
How long have there been historical contacts between Spain and Taiwan?
Few people know that there is a very important historical relationship between Spain and Taiwan. Just last June, the most important Spanish archaeological settlement in Taiwan, which contains remains of the Spanish presence there during the 17th century, opened its doors to the public. It is a settlement on Heping Island, in the city of Keelung, in northern Taiwan, where the remains of the old Fort of San Salvador and the church of All Saints, a building from the Spanish colonial period in Taiwan (1626-1642), have been discovered. Taiwan and Spain launched a major research project to uncover the main archaeological remains of the Spanish colonial period in Taiwan. The Spanish were trying to consolidate their own superior position in world trade from northern Taiwan. In addition to their interest in maritime trade, they promoted Catholicism from the Iberian Peninsula to Asia. Even today, there is still a significant percentage of practising Catholics in Taiwan, among whom I have the honour to include myself.
Does China put a lot of pressure on European countries, Spain in particular, not to have relations with Taiwan?
Before establishing diplomatic relations with a country, China always insists that that country must break diplomatic relations with Taiwan first. That is why China currently has diplomatic relations with more than 170 countries, while Taiwan, so far, we only have relations with 14.
That is why we always say that China puts pressure in various areas: diplomacy, economics, military. We feel the pressure from China every day, not only from the Taiwanese government, but also from the Taiwanese people.
Do you think that, after the NATO summit, China can somehow stop its expansionism?
I think that after the NATO summit China's hegemonic expansion will not stop, it will continue. For example, China has just bought 292 Airbus planes from Europe - they don't buy anything from Boeing - which means that Beijing is trying to "seduce" European countries. Expansionism is not going to stop after the NATO or G7 summit. We can see how the US wants to consolidate its leadership, but each European country has its national interest. Washington treats Beijing as its adversary, but China tries, in my view, to "seduce" European countries by buying so many Airbus planes.
NATO says China is a challenge.
Within that term there is a very broad understanding: challenge in the economic sector or in the military sector or in the hegemonic sector?
The technological relationship with Taiwan must be a priority for the United States and the European Union in order to regain that technological edge from Washington.
The United States is doing everything it can to achieve this, including in the technology chip sector. There is cooperation with the Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). All developed countries want to invest in that company, and the United States has already succeeded. Japan, too, has established a fab in the country. It seems that the European Union, especially Germany, is also pushing for this kind of partnership.
Each country has an interest in developing the Taiwanese company's level of chip technology in a few years' time, but it is not easy