The top Taiwanese diplomat in Washington made a passionate plea Monday for U.S. leaders to more vocally support Taiwan’s inclusion in key Western-backed institutions on the world stage — especially as the tiny island democracy engages in increasingly complex economic ties with China.
“The more we engage with mainland China, the more support we need from the United States,” Shen Lyu-Shun told editors and reporters in an exclusive interview at The Washington Times. Mr. Shen has served as Taiwan’s top representative in Washington since April.
While China and Taiwan remain far apart on political, military and diplomatic issues — with Taipei’s pluralistic democracy standing in stark contrast to communist Beijing — Mr. Shen touted how recent years have brought full-blown integration between the two sides on other levels.
“Economic, social and cultural integration has already happened across the Taiwan Straits,” he said, noting that trade between China and Taiwan last year totaled $167 billion, that 4 million Chinese tourists visit Taiwan each year, and that nearly 40 percent of Taiwan’s trade is with the mainland.
But contentious aspects of the relationship remain, particularly since the government in Beijing appears less than eager to see any star shine brighter than its own on the regional stage. Mr. Shen said that as the two nations move closer, their governments inevitably will have to address sensitive issues.
“From now, we will probably have to talk about not just the economic issues, but some of the political issues and diplomatic issues because they’re trying to block us internationally,” he said.
That is where the United States could lend a highly influential hand, Mr. Shen said, suggesting that more public backing by Washington may be vital to Taiwan’s ability to assume a leadership role in relations with China.
“Mainland China is our largest land of opportunities, but they are the largest single, potential source of threat for us,” he said, reiterating a message pushed in recent years by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
“How do we maximize opportunities [and] minimize the threat? That takes a lot of very skillful manipulation,” said Mr. Shen. “Support from this country will make us more confident as we engage with China.”
He displayed a generally jovial posture in discussing the matter, saying the process of easing tension between Beijing and Taipei likely will unfold slowly over the coming 60 or so years. “Maybe someday we can absorb them,” he joked at one point during his visit to The Times on Monday.
“We have suffered from our diplomatic status. Around the world there are still only 22 countries diplomatically recognizing us,” he said. “There are 171 [that recognized mainland China], and no country in the world has managed to recognize both at the same time.”
Since Taiwan is not a member of most of the world’s international governing bodies, including the United Nations, Mr. Shen said his nation often is left out of key discussions about international norms.