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China claims Taiwan as its own. How does the conflict look to the self-ruled island?


The U.S. Senate approved aid for Taiwan this week, along with Ukraine and Israel. Unlike the other two U.S. allies, Taiwan is not at war but is preparing for the possibility. Mainland China claims the island for its own. We got one perspective on the conflict here in Washington when we walked in the doorway of a white Victorian house.


INSKEEP: Good afternoon. Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please, come on in.

INSKEEP: Thank you so much.

Staff members led us through the wood-paneled entry hall of Twin Oaks, a mansion associated with China for generations.

ALEXANDER YUI: We started to rent this place out back in - I believe, in the 1930s for residents of our ambassador.

INSKEEP: In those days, Nationalist China, the Republic of China, ruled the mainland. Later, Communists won a civil war. The nationalists fled to Taiwan and had to struggle even to keep control of this house in Washington. In a ceremonial room here we met Alexander Yui, Taiwan's representative, and we talked about the tension with Beijing.

YUI: We know the dangers, but we won't be the ones causing or giving an excuse to do what they want to do.

INSKEEP: Yui recently arrived in Washington where he will represent a newly elected president. Lai Ching-te is of the Democratic Progressive Party, which is said to favor Taiwan's independence. His victory added to tensions with mainland China, which views Taiwan as its breakaway province. When we spoke with Alexander Yui, the veteran diplomat offered a formula for talking about Taiwan's status.

YUI: There's really no point in proclaiming another independence because proclaiming independence means that we are currently subject to someone, which we are not.

INSKEEP: Meaning, you don't have to declare independence because you are independent.

YUI: We are. You know, we have been. We have been.

INSKEEP: We sipped coffee from china cups and asked the representative what that stance could mean. The U.S. supports Taiwan without formally recognizing it as a country, part of its intricate diplomacy with the mainland.

YUI: Taiwan is in fact already independent. And its name is Republic of China, which is what we have been for decades.

INSKEEP: This is all about ambiguity, isn't it?

YUI: Well, it's about maintaining the status quo and maintaining the identity of who we are, which - we have never been subject or part of the People's Republic of China. And that is a fact.

INSKEEP: My colleague Ailsa Chang recently reported for NPR in Taiwan and spoke with someone who was senior in the ruling party who said, we don't want independence. What we want is autonomy, democracy. Is that correct?

YUI: We have a democratic system that has evolved from a former system to a democratic system, and the people of Taiwan are used to, and it's part of our lives, and be able to choose every four years our president, to choose its legislators and mayors, etc. And we don't want that lifestyle to be changed. And unfortunately, People's Republic of China, what they want is to change that way of life for the Taiwanese people. Believe it or not, up to now, Beijing is still offering us to be united as one China, as they say, under the one-country, two-systems formula.

INSKEEP: As they Had for Hong Kong...

YUI: Hong Kong.

INSKEEP: ...For a period.

YUI: And look at what Hong Kong has become. So there is no market for that in Taiwan.

INSKEEP: If people want the status quo, if your government wants the status quo, even though it's known as a pro-independence party, why do you think it is that the People's Republic of China has been issuing warnings, accusing you of going down the road to independence, conducting military exercises, on and on?

YUI: Well, I think their view of Taiwan or the ruling party wanting independence for Taiwan - or anyone in Taiwan - let's put it this way, anyone who doesn't want to be part of the People's Republic of China, for them, those are pro-independence activists.

INSKEEP: A year or two ago, early in Russia's war against Ukraine, there was a lot of tension and fear here about a possible war between mainland China and Taiwan - maybe not immediately, but the fear that it was on the horizon, that it was coming. Has that fear diminished?

YUI: You mean from the West or us?

INSKEEP: Are you are you less worried than you were?

YUI: I mean, we're always - again, as I mentioned at the beginning, the - mainland China has been - they have created this tension because, for example, the U.S. House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, visiting Taiwan, it's not something new. It's something that they don't like. And they decided to change things around in the Taiwan Strait, for example, increasing the number of - or sending ships and fighter planes across the median line into Taiwan's identification zone. Sending these balloons, you know - has been increasing in their incidents in sending balloons over Taiwan's airspace. Recently, they - without consulting Taiwan - unilaterally changed the air route - it's called M503, which is a civilian airline air route that goes from north to south from China - they moved it closer to Taiwan's side.

INSKEEP: Do you think they're encroaching on...

YUI: Sure. They're the ones changing the status quo between our cross-strait relations.

INSKEEP: Your outgoing president did make a remark recently, though, suggesting that China was effectively too busy to attack Taiwan, that China was overwhelmed with other problems. Do you think that an invasion is not likely anytime soon?

YUI: Well, People's Republic of China, they do have many issues at hand, including their own domestic issues. So I would hope that they will concentrate more on their own domestic issues, fixing their own problems instead of creating these nervous, sensitive situations across the Taiwan Strait.

INSKEEP: In our talk, Taiwan's representative kept one eye on that nervous, sensitive situation and one on the other nervous situation - politics in Washington. Until now, support for Taiwan has been bipartisan. President Trump started a trade war with Communist China. President Biden kept Trump's tariffs in place and approved new military aid to Taiwan. But as the presidential campaign proceeds, Republicans have increasingly spoken against all foreign aid. And former President Trump accused Taiwan of stealing U.S. business. We did ask Alexander Yui what he makes of politics here. He diplomatically expressed the hope that U.S. support will continue whoever wins this fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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