What you need to know
After writing to The Wall Street Journal to make quite clear that 'Taiwan Is Not a Part of the People’s Republic', Brian Su talks about the importance and strategy of raising Taiwan's international profile.
In the midst of a multi-pronged intensification of China’s efforts to constrict Taiwan’s ability to operate in the international space, Brian Su, Deputy Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) New York, wrote to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) (paywall) to urge corporations and their CEOs not to give in to China’s attempt to bully them.
He wrote: “It must be stressed that Taiwan is not, nor has it ever been, part of the People’s Republic of China. This is the reality that China refuses to face up to while pressuring the world to accept its false claim.”
In the June 12 letter, he presaged a statement last week from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen that urged democratic nations to stand together in the face of Chinese aggression, saying “Kowtowing to China puts democratic values at risk and will have a grave effect on the liberal international order. The global community should reject China’s intimidation tactics and its false narrative. International companies will do well to note that caving in to China’s coercion now will only invite more.”
Last Friday, The News Lens spoke with Deputy Director Su to learn more about TECO’s New York office and the role it plays in raising awareness of Taiwan in the United States.
The News Lens: Please introduce yourself and your role at TECO New York?
Brian Su: My job is supervising work related to media, think tanks and United Nations affairs. TECO New York functions as the de facto consulate general — everything regarding consular affairs, political affairs, cultural exchanges, trade and investment promotion to media and academic liaison is all within scope.
TNL: In what ways are TECO’s functions different from those of an official embassy?
BS: We have more than 12 to 13 branches in the U.S., and the biggest is based in Washington DC, that’s our representative office with embassy functions. At TECO New York, sometimes we link with the state government; we cover four states: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Sometimes we invite guests or officials from those states to visit Taiwan.
TNL: On media monitoring, how have you seen the way Taiwan is portrayed change in the last six months, particularly around the signing of the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) in March?
BS: During that time, because the North Korea issue completely occupied media, so the TTA received limited media coverage in the U.S. But the usefulness of the Act lies in its implementation, and more and more media columnists are mentioning the TTA.
It is very important for Taiwan to raise its voice, in the face of China’s aggression. It’s our job to inform the international community that China’s claim over Taiwan is false.
TNL: There’s obviously a concerted push by China to squeeze Taiwan’s ability to operate in the international space, is that what prompted you to write to the WSJ?
BS: Actually I have written to the WSJ many times, and that was the third letter they had printed of mine this year. It is very important for Taiwan to raise its voice, in the face of China’s aggression. It’s our job to inform the international community that China’s claim over Taiwan is false. We still have to speak louder.
TNL: Wu Min-hsuan said at the East Asia Democracy Forum in Taipei last week that the “One China principle" is the greatest piece of fake news ever perpetuated…
BS: They try to use this principle to coerce many countries to obey and abide by this principle. The PRC never ruled Taiwan, we never paid any tax to them.
TNL: Do you think the media presents the issue in a fair and balanced way?
BS: I think we should let more media should know the definition of the so-called one China principle, and we should let them learn more about the cross-Strait situation and Taiwan’s democratic system compared with [China’s] authoritarianism— that’s our job.
You know, for China, they are afraid of democracy in Taiwan. For them it means independence, and that’s ironic because they have no idea about democracy, they have no idea how to vote for their leader. President Tsai never declared independence, she did not bow to pressure. We’ve got to earn our democracy. This way of life does not mean independence. China mixes up these ideas to claim sovereignty. That’s unacceptable for Taiwanese.
TNL: In the letter you asked companies to stand up to China, what else could they do apart form refuse the request to change Taiwan’s designation?
BS: We would like to see companies stand up to China and not give in to coercion. All companies should stand together and not allow China to dictate their actions. Because China is not their CEO. Business in a democracy runs by its own will, not by China’s will.
Even now, American airlines have not kowtowed to China yet. We have to push that forwards. They set a deadline of July 25, but some companies have not surrendered, so what would happen after that? I don’t know. Now there is an anticorruption movement in China and that makes things more complicated. But when you are dealing with China you have to be aware that many things are not transparent, so you have to follow your own rules and play by the democratic book. If you play by their rules, you will lose.
TNL: What other avenues does Taiwan have to push back against China’s pressure?
BS: We will seek to cooperate with likeminded countries to convey a message to the international community whenever we can.
TNL: Do you think Taiwan does enough to raise awareness of itself through social media channels?
BS: Social media is one way to reach a broad audience, but not the only one. TECO does have a social media presence that is run by our cultural center, and even our tourism center does social media. We are considering building a wider social media presence but we have to be sure that it will be effective. If you don’t run it effectively, it will be chaos. You have to be cautious.
TNL: How do you intend to go about that?
BS: We need more capacity, how to build content and maintain social media. We need more human resources. The most important thing is content and delivering it to the right audience effectively and without mistake.
TNL: Is that a job that should be done in-house or outsourced to professional companies?
BS: We can do both. We have to create the content ourselves but technically we also need experts. You have to monitor the content, you can’t just outsource it. Other companies don’t know what you want to do.
TNL: Last week President Tsai called for democratic governments to work together, and in the past allies like the United States would encourage states to recognize Taiwan diplomatically, do you think there is scope for that to happen again?
BS: When President Tsai said we need to work together to affirm the values of democracy, it’s important because you have seen what’s happened in Australia and New Zealand [where China’s United Front Work Department operations have hit headlines], they’re very concerned with the situation. Even Japan is concerned about geopolitical security, so we share their interests, we are trying to work together with likeminded governments, like India. The New Southbound Policy (NSP) aims to build more connections with ASEAN members, especially India.
TNL: How do you think the NSP is going so far?
BS: Building these relations is like building a house — brick by brick — it takes time to develop cultural and economic ties. We are inviting students from Southeast Asia to let them study in Taiwan and learn about Taiwan’s culture and its education system, which is very important for the future. Diversifying takes time.
TNL: What’s your view on how the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will play out?
BS: This is a personal view, I’ve observed BRI for a long-time, and this initiative is almost totally run by state-owned enterprises. They are run at the will of the [CCP] and not transparently. The New York Times last week ran an article explaining how China dealt with Sri Lanka and managed to get access to Hambantota port — they ran a debt trap. They forced the Sri Lanka government to lease the port for 99 years, to what extent they will militarize it and pose a threat to India, we don’t know. The BRI aims to extend political and economic influence through Europe, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. You have to be very cautious.
TNL: This is the 40th anniversary of the TECO New York office, so what events have been taking place to mark the occasion?
BS: In April, we invited the Huang Hsin-yao (黃信堯) [director of Golden Horse winning movie “The Great Buddha”] to come to New York to take part in screenings by new directors at The Museum of Modern Art, and it was selected by The New York Times as one of 11 “must see movies” at the festival.
Also in April we had Pride month, we ran a series of cultural events featuring LGBTQ literature and films. We also ran seminars on the Commission on the Status of Women and on indigenous peoples — we invited academic, NGO and United Nations representatives — and they attracted very strong audiences.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that President Tsai "needed to bow to pressure." Mr. Su in fact said "she did not bow to pressure" and the article has been amended to reflect this.