If China should attack Taiwan—a possibility that President Biden warned against this week—the island's defenders plan to draw on lessons from the war in Ukraine.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tells NPR his government would use Ukraine's techniques for fending off a much larger enemy. Taiwanese troops would do the fighting using international support, asymmetric warfare and mass mobilization of the population.

"Defending Taiwan is our own responsibility," Wu said. "What we need is international support — speaking out to support us and to provide us with the necessary means for us to be able to defend ourselves."

Wu recorded the interview late last week, amid growing concern about the island's future. Taiwan has thrived in ambiguity for decades: China claims the island but hasn't attacked it; Taiwan is a democracy but hasn't proclaimed independence; and the U.S. supports Taiwan even though it does not formally recognize it or have a formal military alliance with it.

Now that ambiguity is fading. President Biden has twice said the U.S. would defend Taiwan, most recently on Monday. Qin Gang, China's ambassador to Washington, told NPR early this year that the U.S. was risking "military conflict."

Taiwan's foreign minister said his country intends to avoid war. "We will maintain the status quo," he said, not seek formal independence. But if a conflict should ever come, Wu said his government may adopt tactics tested 5,000 miles away against the Russian invaders of Ukraine.

He said he was "watching very closely" discussions in the U.S. Senate about a Taiwan aid bill that would include financing for weapons.

"We are taking the war in Ukraine into a very serious internal discussions," he said. "The Ukrainian people are very brave, and one of the tactics that has been successful so far is the asymmetric capability. And that is something that we are learning from and we want to discuss further with the United States."

Wu said he was referring to Ukraine's use of shoulder-fired Stinger and Javelin missiles, which allow a single Ukrainian soldier to destroy an expensive Russian aircraft or tank. He said Taiwan has such weapons and wants to stockpile more.

He said Taiwan is watching Ukraine's mass mobilization of its populace. Ukrainian men were required not to leave the country, and to stand ready to be called into military service.

"That is something that we also want to learn from," Wu said. Taiwan "has established a agency it's called All Out Mobilization Agency, and the purpose of it is to mobilize the society in general."

Wu also appeared to confirm, in general terms, reports that U.S. troops have helped to train Taiwanese military units. "I cannot explain to you in too much detail, but I can tell you that the two sides have been working very closely, and the Taiwanese military benefits tremendously from the joint cooperation and wisdom with the U.S. military."

He added that the U.S. and Taiwan continue "very high level national security discussions" as they watch China.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.



For half a century, the United States and China have agreed to disagree about Taiwan. What happens as they sound less agreeable? President Biden said this week the United States would get involved militarily if China attacks Taiwan.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's the commitment we made. That's the commitment we made.

INSKEEP: Administration officials clarified the United States has not made that commitment. Ambiguity has been the way the U.S. and China get along over Taiwan. China claims the island but has not attacked it. Taiwan is a democracy but has not proclaimed independence. The U.S. supports Taiwan without making a formal military alliance. But Biden has now said twice the U.S. would defend Taiwan. China is speaking more bluntly, too. China's ambassador, Chen Gong, spoke with NPR earlier this year.


QIN GANG: If, you know, the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, you know, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely involve China, the United States, the two big countries, in military conflict.

INSKEEP: As the old ambiguity seems to fade, we reached out to the island at the center of the disagreement. Shortly before Biden made his remarks, we contacted Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu. He was in Taipei, the capital of the island 100 miles off the Chinese coast. And he said China's growing military frequently sends planes and ships near Taiwan.

JOSEPH WU: So their military is getting more confident. Their leadership is getting more confident. And therefore, they try to put more pressure, military pressure. on Taiwan. If they have some domestic problems that threatens the legitimacy of the government, they may want to initiate an external crisis to keep the country together.

INSKEEP: Has the United States inadvertently added some to your risk? By the way, the United States has confronted the People's Republic of China and more and more publicly supported Taiwan.

WU: Yes. The United States has been showing very solid support for Taiwan. And the kinds of support that the United States have been providing to Taiwan are also very strong. And...

INSKEEP: I'm asking, though - forgive me. I'm asking, though, is there a side effect to that, that greater tensions might add to the risk to Taiwan?

WU: No. That's what the Chinese wanted the international community to know, that U.S. support for Taiwan is going to create more problems for Taiwan. The fact is that if there are more international support for Taiwan, it's going to become more of a deterrence against the Chinese aggression against Taiwan.

INSKEEP: It's our understanding that some key members of the U.S. Senate are now discussing a Taiwan aid bill that would include military support, money for weapons purchases. Is that something Taiwan wants?

WU: That is something that we are watching very carefully. It's not, like, you know, providing Taiwan with money. It is a finance that Taiwan can utilize in thinking about or in discussing about procuring arms from the United States. And the support coming from the Senate or the House are very strong for Taiwan. And they are constantly thinking about different ways of supporting Taiwan.

INSKEEP: If Taiwan were attacked, is Ukraine the model for how Taiwan would defend itself, by which I mean Taiwanese would do the fighting with support from outside?

WU: That is something that we have been saying all the time. Defending Taiwan is our own responsibility. But what we need is the international support - speaking out to support us, to provide us with the necessary means for us to be able to defend ourselves. And that is what we are looking for.

INSKEEP: Obviously, a better result is not to have a war.

WU: I agree.

INSKEEP: From the outsider's perspective, this seems like an unusual and, perhaps, fundamentally unstable situation. Taiwan does not formally claim its own independence. It's an ambiguous status. You have kept it up for many decades. But can you keep it up indefinitely?

WU: We will definitely maintain the status quo. And that's our policy. We will safeguard the status quo. And the status quo serves the best interests of all parties concerned. And Taiwan can exist as a democracy, as a shining model for other countries to emulate. And if China is violating the status quo, I'm sure the international community is going to voice its opposition.

INSKEEP: Final thing, Foreign Minister - I don't know what you think about when you hear national security analysts in the United States suggest that war could be coming in three years. They just throw out a number, say, by 2025. They seem to think it's possible. When you hear that kind of speculation, do you presume that you are ready in that timeframe?

WU: We try to be ready and all time. We hear different kind of analysis. Some people say it is going to be happening in three years. Some say that it's going to be happening in five years or 10 years. And at the same time, we are also trying to beef up our own defense capabilities. The most recent discussions is the asymmetric capability. And we are taking the war in Ukraine into very serious internal discussions. The Ukrainian people are very brave and one of the tactics that has been successful so far is the asymmetric capability. And that is something that we are learning from and we want to discuss further with the United States to beef up our asymmetric defense capabilities.

INSKEEP: I want to explain for the layman. When you talk about asymmetric capabilities, you're talking about a Ukrainian who is one man with a missile who can knock an expensive plane out of the sky or destroy an expensive tank. That's the kind of thing that you want Taiwan to be ready to do?

WU: That's part of our preparation. Indeed, we have procured similar types of weapons, for example, Javelins or Stingers. We have procured a lot of them. But in order for our - every soldier to be familiar with the operation of these type of weapons, they need more exercise. And they need to learn how to do in a decentralized type of situation, the way that Ukrainians are fighting this war.

INSKEEP: To what extent is the U.S. military helping to train the Taiwanese military in those or other techniques?

WU: I cannot explain to you in too much detail. But I can tell you that the two sides have been working very closely. And the Taiwanese military benefits tremendously from the joint cooperation with the U.S. military. We have very high level national security discussions in between the two sides. And there are also military, political type of dialogues in between the two sides. And different services are also speaking with each other. And that helps us tremendously.

INSKEEP: Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

WU: Thank you very much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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