A military band rehearses for a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, July 1, 2021. Chinese fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships conducted assault drill

Global Politics

Taiwan spokeswoman to China: Quit comparing us to Afghanistan

Whether the United States would go to war to defend Taiwan is an open question. The World’s Patrick Winn spoke with Kolas Yotaka, a former Taiwanese legislator, now a spokeswoman for the Taiwan presidential office. 

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A military band rehearses for a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Chinese Communist Party at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, July 1, 2021. Chinese fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships conducted assault drills near Taiwan on Aug. 17, 2021, with the People’s Liberation Army saying the exercise was necessary to safeguard China's sovereignty.

Credit:

Ng Han Guan/AP

China is ratcheting up aggression toward Taiwan by buzzing the island with fighter jets and bombers every single week.

As Beijing sees it, Taiwan is a lost province that must eventually come under its control. Yet, Taiwan has its own elected government, military and alliances, most notably with the US, which supplies the island with billions in weapons.

Whether the United States would go to war to defend Taiwan is an open question.

Related: Southeast Asia allies express concern over US commitment amid Afghanistan crisis

Last week, President Joe Biden suggested it would. His office scrambled to say he had misspoken. There is no getting around it: Any genuine invasion of Taiwan would have severe implications upon the island’s 23 million population as well as the future of the American empire.

The World’s Patrick Winn spoke with Kolas Yotaka, a former Taiwanese legislator who is now a spokeswoman for the Taiwan presidential office, about the situation.

Patrick Winn: Chinese state media is pointing to Afghanistan and saying, "Hey, look, Taiwan, the US can’t protect you. You could end up like Afghan leaders, flying away on helicopters." What do you make of that?
Kolas Yotaka: I think they are completely different situations. A lazy comparison between Taiwan and Afghanistan ignores the reality in both countries. And shows little regard for the immense human suffering facing many in Afghanistan today.

Related: Harris' Asia trip carries new urgency after Afghan collapse

Well, here are some recent headlines: The New York Times has “Is Taiwan Next?” The Washington Post says, “Risk of War With Taiwan Is Growing.” Forbes says, “The Invasion Will Defy Human Comprehension.” I mean, to read this stuff, you would think war is coming next week. Is that how it feels to your government?  
The threats have been there for decades. So actually, we have experienced similar threats many times. So for us, none of this is new. The point is: We are prepared. We have self-defense. That’s the most important thing.

Related: Taliban takeover could mean more security challenges for Chinese projects in Pakistan

But on a day-to-day basis, is your government sitting around all day talking about war?
No, no. We are not saying it’s not happening. Actually, we are pretty aware of this. I mean, Taiwanese people want peace. But we know the risk of conflict is always there.
You are not anti-China?
We are not anti-China at all. We want equal dialogue and peaceful interaction with China. Without any precondition. We want to get along with everyone, to cooperate on many issues: health, climate change, technology. Actually, we have a strong commercial and cultural exchange with China, people to people. No one wants to see the relationship get worse for political reasons. But this is Beijing’s decision to make.

 

Beijing has said Taiwan that formally calling itself an independent country would be grounds for war. Is Taiwan an independent country?
Of course. We are a sovereign and independent country already. Because we have elections, a president, a military, a judiciary. Obviously, Taiwan’s independence is a fact.We are not afraid of using the word “independent.”

 

OK. But changing the constitution to say that — to say Taiwan is independent — that would be a big deal, right? 
Yeah, but it’s a decision for people to make. Only Taiwanese can decide.

 

On Twitter, you said China is like a noisy neighbor. 
They are pretty noisy! Actually, they threaten their neighbors. But that’s the neighbor we are living with.

 

Taiwan is becoming one of the freer places in Asia, with more rights for media, more LGBTQ rights. What is your role as an island in a region that’s becoming more authoritarian? 
Taiwan is very different from China. Culturally, historically. So, we want to be ourselves. I think that’s how the majority of Taiwanese people feel. I do hope other countries can see this part of Taiwan.

 

People may even notice your name, Kolas, is not a Han Chinese name. Some people think just about everyone in Taiwan is ethnically Chinese, people fleeing Communist victory on the mainland in the late 1940s. But you are from an Indigenous group called Amis, is that correct?  
In Taiwan, we call ourselves Pangcah. Known as Amis. And Austronesian Indigenous peoples make up 2.4% of Taiwan’s population, more than half a million. Like what you just said, we are not Han Chinese. We have been living here for thousands of years.There are 16 different recognized Indigenous peoples [in Taiwan] speaking 16 different languages, which have relations to other Pacific cultures in places like the Philippines, New Zealand, Hawaii. We have different cultures. For example, my people, Pangcah, are matriarchal, whereas Chinese culture is very patriarchal.This often gets erased when people say Taiwan is culturally Chinese. Actually, we are very mixed.

 

I want to ask about the US. What does your government ultimately want from the US?
The US has been supportive of Taiwan. We are grateful. We’d love to see the US continue to support Taiwan’s participation in international bodies. Like the WHO [World Health Organization] and other UN [United Nations] agencies … cooperation between Taiwan and the US has been growing. Taiwan can contribute more than people realize.The US has helped us enhance our capabilities. But ultimately, we know it is up to us to defend our country.

 

But does Taiwan need the US to remain independent?
Yeah, yeah. I think we need US support. We need to make progress. And we have to get better. And we can be better together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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