EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Annette Hsiu-lien Lu (Former Vice-President of Taiwan)
EUBULLETIN: China’s creeping assertiveness and expansion in the South China Sea is a great concern for many politicians also in Europe. It looks like that more and more countries, be it United States, Australia or New Zealand, are adjusting their foreign policies towards China while they scramble to have their presence felt in this region. Several countries also stressed that they would enforce the freedom of navigation in this strategically important part of the world. What is Taiwan’s current attitude on this issue?
Annette Lu: Traditionally, Taiwan owned sovereignty of Senkaku Islands, which we call Tiaoyutai Islands, in East China Sea. We also own sovereignty of some of the islands in South China Sea. Besides, Taiwan’s location is very important since it is sitting right in the centre of the first island chain (Note: It refers to the first chain of major archipelagos located off the East Asian continental mainland coast). Ever since Xi Jinping took office as President of People’s Republic of China (PRC), he said openly that in the year 2049, when PRC celebrates its 100-year anniversary, they are going to fulfil their China dream – they want to enrich the country, they want to strengthen their military power to become a sole superpower.
So, this century is the century for China’s challenge against not only the United States but they want to conquer the whole world. And they realize that the takeover of Taiwan must be their first priority, simply because Taiwan’s location is so important. Once Taiwan is taken over by China, then China can have a direct access to the second island chain to challenge the United States. That’s number one. And also, they are building military bases on some islands in East China Sea and also South China Sea. By that, they try to prevent the freedom of navigation, so the whole world should also pay attention to what is going on there.
EUBULLETIN: But, interestingly, judging from the recent landmark ruling by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, it seems that, to a great extent, the positions of Taiwan and PRC are similar, if only because Taipei also raised objections against the Court’s ruling that there was no legal basis for mainland China’s claims to a large section of the sea.
Annette Lu: Because, historically, we have owned the territory in South China Sea. The international tribunal’s decision was very unfair to Taiwan because we are not a part of the whole process, so we do feel unhappy about it. We were not even invited to attend the trial or to present our documents – so it’s very unfair. So, our president refuted the court’s decision. But I think more important is that despite the fact that we own the sovereignty over some of the most important islands there, we initiated peace talks, we don’t want to create a trouble in the region. In our peace initiative, we invite all the countries involved to discuss a peaceful settlement of the dispute. And my personal proposal is that we encourage all the countries to refrain from using nuclear power, there is no use of force and the area is used only for joint scientific research.
EUBULLETIN: But what role do you think is there for the European Union to play in trying to find a peaceful settlement of the escalating territorial disputes in South China Sea that could potentially spin out of control if left unchecked?
Annette Lu: In light of Taiwan’s strategically important geopolitical position, the whole world should support Taiwan to remain a beacon for democracy, for liberty. In the past couple of years, we noticed that more and more Chinese who visit Taiwan learn about democracy in Taiwan because we share the same language and the same culture. Quite naturally, the Chinese are curious to know if Taiwan can have democracy, why can’t the Chinese have? On the other hand, if Taiwan is taken over by China, then there is no hope at all.
EUBULLETIN: Do you personally think that military power can be a part of the solution to the dispute? In particular, should the EU and its Member States be more directly involved like, for example, the United States by sending military ships to the disputed islands to demonstrate the freedom of navigation?
Annette Lu: Well, it is well known that China has in the past couple of months flexed its muscles in the region, which has only deteriorated the whole situation. So, there is a need for more soft power. We emphasize peace and we feel that if the whole world supports Taiwan to become a neutralized state, like Switzerland, for example, then we can remain neutral and thus stabilize the region. That’s the best way we think, that’s why I am working for this objective.
EUBULLETIN: Are you suggesting that you would like to see the European Union supporting Taiwan’s aspirations to become a neutral state?
Annette Lu: Yes, that’s what we are doing. That’s why hopefully sometime next year we are going to propose such an initiative to achieve Taiwan’s neutrality. And I always seek understanding and support from the international community because once Taiwan becomes neutralized, it’s good not only for our people, it’s good for the region and for whole world as well.
EUBULLETIN: Following Brexit, it looks like the UK will start the process of withdrawal from the EU sometime early next year. And since the UK has probably been one of the main supporters of Taiwan within the EU, do you think that Brexit will negatively affect the EU-Taiwan relationship?
Annette Lu: The majority of British people prefer to be independent from the European Union and therefore they very much understand the value of being independent. So, I think they will understand why we, Taiwanese, are seeking independence and neutrality. On Brexit, as Taiwanese, we take no position, however, we respect the right of the British people to make this decision.
Annette Lu is former Vice President of Taiwan. Her political ascension took place against the background of the struggle for Taiwanese independence. She was an active member of the Tangwai movement that called for democracy and an end to authoritarian rule. Following the famous rally, where she gave a pro-democracy speech in 1979, she and basically the whole democratic movement was sentenced to 12 years of prison. Anette Lu is also a prominent feminist advocate who often addresses the lack of women in Taiwanese politics. She wrote the book New Feminism and was awarded the World Peace Corps Mission’s World Peace Prize in 2001.