efe-epaBy Francisco Luis Perez Taipei

Separated by a little over 130 kilometers (81 miles) from China, Taiwan is seeking international aid to counter the meteoric ascent of its neighbor, whose expansionism is a problem for all democratic countries, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tells Efe in an exclusive.

Wu, 64, took over as foreign minister in 2018, the year during which Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador broke ties with Taiwan to establish relations with China.

Wu launched a campaign to consolidate ties with the island's remaining 17 diplomatic allies and deepen relations with the United States through the signing of a legislation that allows visits by US officials to the island to meet with their counterparts as well as an increase in the sale of arms and the strengthening of bilateral military ties.

"Without Chinese hostility, Taiwan would not need a policy of self-defense nor external support," says Wu, the mastermind of this strategy and the right-hand of current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Wu says the island was going to establish ties with the United States International Development Finance Corporation, a $60 billion fund that Washington intends to use as a financial tool to tackle China's advance.

This channel joins others, such as the Taiwanese construction companies, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Inter-American Development Bank, with which the island provides cooperation to support its allies.

The island claims to seek "direct benefits" through agricultural, educational and medical projects and vocational training projects, and also provides emergency relief in the event of natural disasters.

"If we have helped Venezuela, where we don't even have a representative office, what won't we do for the allies?" says Wu, who has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Ohio State University in the US.

At present, ties with its allies – of which nine are in Latin America and the Caribbean - "remain stable" despite –growing pressure from China, which uses its economic heft "with ambitious strategies and policies."

China, for its part, remains committed to the idea of reunification under the "one country, two systems" formula, similar to the policy that has dictated its ties with Hong Kong and which allows the former British colony to enjoy certain democratic freedoms that do not exist on the mainland.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned in January that Beijing would not rule out using force in order to bring about reunification.

But China's offer is not attractive for Taiwan as the island would lose its right to self-govern as well as its democratic rights, according to Wu.

"One needs to not only listen to China's words but also look at its actions, and Hong Kong''s experience is instructive," Wu says.

Moreover, the foreign minister sees Taiwan in the forefront of a crusade in defense of democracy in the face of authoritarianism and reiterates that Chinese expansionism "is not only Taiwan's problem but of all democratic countries."

"If Taiwan falls into the hands of China, tomorrow it will be another country", he stresses and adds that "Taiwan is an independent country with a president, a parliament and an economic, monetary, diplomatic and military system" which must be preserved.

On the other hand, Wu has does not doubt in the least the support offered by the US government and describes the US Vice President Mike Pence as "the great ally of the island's democracy."

"US support has been constant and growing," adds Wu, without denying that this alliance extends not only to the military but also to the diplomatic realm so that Taiwan can join international organizations.

However, since Tsai took office in 2016, Taiwan has been excluded from participating in the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), Interpol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change due to pressure from China, which continues to regard the island as part of its territory.

Meanwhile, Taiwan declares itself as an independent, sovereign nation under the official name of "Republic of China (Taiwan)" and affirms that it does not need to declare its independence because it is already independent and the People's Republic of China has never had effective jurisdiction over the island. EFE-EPA