We talk to Taiwan’s man in London about diplomatic tussles with China, the Swiss build their second-largest embassy and Russia’s backfire in the Baltics.
Taiwanese diplomacy isn’t a cakewalk these days. Just ask David Lin, the country’s former foreign minister and current representative to the UK. Since taking up his London post in 2016 he has seen the People’s Republic of China ramp up pressure on Taiwan’s allies to abandon the nation of 23 million people – with some success. Monocle met Lin at the Taipei Representative Office in London to discuss his role and the demonstrations in Hong Kong.
MONOCLE: Tensions between Taiwan and China have escalated. How challenging has diplomacy become for Taiwan as a result?
DAVID LIN: Ever since our last presidential election we started to feel more pressure from China to accept the so-called “one country, two systems”. People in Taiwan simply are not interested, especially after [the protests] in Hong Kong. Today we still have 17 diplomatic allies but China has tried everything possible to offer a financial package to five of our allies to switch to the Chinese side. But economically we are still close with China. In fact, China has been trying to attract more Taiwanese investment. So economically it is trying to do everything to attract Taiwan but politically it is trying to do everything to isolate Taiwan.
M: You’ve said in the past that Taiwan prefers to maintain the status quo. Do you think that’s still possible?
DL: Of course. Taiwan is a multi-party democracy and one of the top 20 economies in the world. So when I say “status quo”, this is the basis for Taiwan’s continued stability and prosperity. We don’t want to have any military confrontation with China; nor do we want to see any political interference by the Chinese. Continuing the status quo is also important for other countries in the region because Taiwan can continue to play a positive role in maintaining peace.
M: Has seeing the international community largely support the protests in Hong Kong made you optimistic?
DL: Yes. We are also very supportive of the people of Hong Kong who are pursuing more freedom and more autonomy. If China cannot abide by its own commitment to maintaining peace, stability and a high-degree of autonomy for the people of Hong Kong, how can we put any trust in the PRC government? This is the key point here that we want to make to the international community.
The Swiss have opened an expanded embassy in Moscow. Designed by Lausanne-based firm Brauen & Wälchli, it combines a 19th-century neoclassical palace with a modern building complex; viewed from above, the inner courtyard resembles a map of Switzerland.
The reason for the expansion is twofold. First, in order to boost operational coherence, all the country’s existing official units in Russia are now housed under one roof, including the diplomatic and consular representation, the Swiss Business Hub, the Pro Helvetia cultural foundation and Switzerland Tourism. Second, the Swiss have been pulling double duty by also handling Georgian interests since shortly after the Russo-Georgian War. With the new space, the Swiss can now better carry out coherent diplomacy without having to brave the Moscow winter to hold a meeting together.
Russia’s plans to celebrate the Baltics’ liberation from German forces in 1944 are about to spectacularly misfire. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Soviet Union after the end of the Second World War but have called Russia’s insistence that they did so willingly an “unfriendly action” and a “provocation”. Fireworks and gun salutes have been planned throughout the autumn in Moscow. The Baltics’ ministers of foreign affairs have urged Russian ambassadors to reconsider the country’s version of events but their requests have been met with deafening silence.