Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is shown wearing a dark suit and walking while flanked by a military officials to her left.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, center, attends a ceremony commemorating the 62nd anniversary of deadly attack by China on Kinmen island, in Kinmen, Taiwan, Aug. 23, 2020.

Credit:

Chiang Ying-ying/AP/File photo

The Biden administration has said that managing US-China relations is a top priority. One flashpoint for a potential conflict between the two countries is the island of Taiwan.

From Beijing’s perspective, Taiwan is a rogue province that must never be treated as an independent country, even though it effectively runs its own affairs. Washington says it's determined to keep the democratic territory free. But where does Taiwan stand in all of this? Host Marco Werman talks with Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s top diplomat in the US.

TRANSCRIPT:

Marco Werman:
Right at the top of the Biden administration's foreign policy challenges is the question of how to deal with China. There are a lot of considerations, a simmering trade war, there's Hong Kong and there's confrontations over human rights. Also, questions over the future of Taiwan. Beijing views Taiwan as a rogue province, not an independent nation. Washington is determined to keep the democratic territory free. So where does Taiwan stand in all of this? Taiwan's top diplomat here in the US is Bi-khim Hsiao. She joins us now. Madam Hsiao, back in January, you attended the inauguration of President Biden, and that was after receiving a formal invitation. I'm just curious, what did that simple gesture and moment tell you about the new administration's stance regarding Taiwan?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, I was honored to represent the government and people of Taiwan in attending the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris. And I saw my invitation to be there in person as a recognition of Taiwan as a significant Democratic partner. We do cherish the opportunities to work with the United States based on our common values and interests. And those values do include democracy and freedom.

Marco Werman:
So a recognition as partners, what would you say is different than about the US-Taiwanese relationship today?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, over the past many decades, Taiwan has democratized significantly. And our accomplishments in terms of respecting democracy and creating a society that also respects diversity is very much highlighted. Taiwan's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has also presented an important model. So I think the successes in Taiwan's transition to democracy has also helped to strengthen our relationship with Washington.

Marco Werman:
So I want to get to more specifics in a moment about the differences between the Biden and Trump White House regarding Taiwan. But first to security, because it's a huge issue. In recent years, Beijing, the Chinese mainland, has ramped up pressure, as you know, on Taiwan. Coming close to Taiwan's shores with military drills flying close to or even into Taiwan's airspace. In terms of Taiwan security how worried are you just about a potential attack from mainland China?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, we certainly are concerned. China has invested tremendously in modernizing its military. And in recent years they have increased some aggressive actions in the region, including near daily intrusions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, as well as some naval presence that has also posed some destabilizing influences on the region at large. We are responding by trying to enhance Taiwan's asymmetrical warfare capabilities and enhancing our security partnership with the United States.

Marco Werman:
Is a concern about an attack from the mainland, the kind of thing that keeps leaders in Taiwan awake at night? Well, based on recent actions by the Beijing government in Xinjiang as well as Hong Kong, that is certainly very alarming. And it has further strengthen the will of the people of Taiwan in recognizing the significance of defending our democracy.

Marco Werman:
Understood. But in an actual hot war, would you count on the US to actually send troops — boots on the ground?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, that would depend on different contingencies. And I think what we are doing is to enhance Taiwan's self-defense.

Marco Werman:
Do you see the US security kind of part of this equation as really the only thing that you can count on in the event of such an attack?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, the US is the most important security partner of Taiwan. It is the only country in the world at this stage willing and able to support Taiwan in a direct way in Taiwan, self-defense. And so we do heavily depend on a strong security partnership with the United States in defending our democracy.

Marco Werman:
So in terms of securing Taiwan's democratic values, madam, when you look at what's happening in Hong Kong with China's crackdown there, you also mentioned earlier Xinjiang, what do you think? What are your conclusions?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, we are very concerned about not only the increasing abuse of human rights in China, but the backslide of basic rights in Hong Kong as well. In addition, their use of modern technology, including artificial intelligence, to monitor and suppress free speech, is also an area of tremendous concern. And so all that is happening in Xinjiang and Hong Kong is very alarming for the people of Taiwan, and it does strengthen our resolve to defend the freedoms that we have built in our own society.

Marco Werman:
About four years ago, when Donald Trump first came to office, he took a call from Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen. It was the first talk with a Taiwanese president in decades. In general, the Trump administration seemed ready to break with decades of norms when it came to Taiwan. That was a controversial move — it was seen as a controversial move. Do you expect the same from Joe Biden?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, there are areas of continuity between the two administrations, including a strong commitment to the security of Taiwan and very vocal support for democracy and freedom. We will engage with the administration as well as the political establishment here in Washington, including members of Congress, in a bipartisan way in ensuring that our common interests are consistent and continuous over the long run.

Marco Werman:
I gather a lot of Taiwanese appreciated Trump's approach to China. Why do you think that is?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, there were some quite vocal expressions of support from the previous administration. We are also hearing some strong statements of support from the new administration. And so as a government, we work with both parties here in the United States and in ensuring that there is bipartisan support for Taiwan. Not only on the security side, but in trade, economic relations, and also in supporting Taiwan's international participation in international organizations.

Marco Werman :
I know you've spent many years in the US — your mother is American — you went to college here. Personally, what does this assignment, this posting as the top Taiwanese representative in the US, what does it mean to you?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, on a personal level, I think my personal background does bring to the job a role that has become a bridge between Taiwan and the United States. And I am committed, as well as honored to represent Taiwan in the relationship at this particular time. But in addition to that, what's unique about my role in comparison to my predecessors in Washington is that I am the first woman to represent Taiwan in this role. And Taiwan has made tremendous strides in terms of women's political representation. And I think that is something that we will continue to work with other countries on.

Marco Werman:
Madam, it being International Women's Day, I feel I need to ask you, do you feel at home in both places, the US and Taiwan, as a woman leader?

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Well, I have had many predecessors who actually pioneered at phases in our history when there were so few of us women in international affairs — especially in international security affairs. But I think we have arrived at a point where Taiwan has elected its first woman president and we have a community of more and more supportive women. So I do feel very much comfortable as a woman in an area where there were challenges in the past. And we do seek more opportunities to be mutually reinforcing in terms of bringing more women into similar roles.

Marco Werman:
Bi-khim Hsiao is Taiwan's top diplomat here in the US, speaking with us about US-Taiwan relations in the early days of the Biden administration. Thank you very much for your time.

Bi-khim Hsiao:
Thank you.

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