Speech to the Prospect Foundation in Taipei

Chairman Chen, President Lai. It’s fantastic to be here today in Taiwan at the Prospect Foundation, which has done so much to stand up for freedom, democracy and security here in the Pacific and also in Taiwan.

I’ve always wanted to come to Taiwan. But as a government minister, I was heavily restricted. And maybe we can all blame that on President Nixon, I don’t know; but it’s great to be here. Because this place really is a beacon of freedom, of democracy, of free enterprise, of a free society. But it is also on the frontier of freedom in what is now a very serious struggle between democracies and authoritarian regimes around the world.

You here in Taiwan know what the threat is. And you know what the alternative is. It’s tyranny instead of freedom. It’s control, not choice. It’s arbitrary decisions made, rather than proper justice. And the reason you know what that threat is, is only 80 miles away there is a totalitarian regime where that is a reality.

And the threat that it poses is not going away. In fact, that threat is increasing. Recently President Xi has stepped up the threats. He’s made statements about so-called reunification. He’s been sending increased numbers of warplanes on sorties into Taiwan’s air defence zone. And the Chinese Communist Party are making it very clear that they don’t want to see Taiwan exist in its current form.

And that’s because you are a direct challenge to everything the Chinese Communist Party stands for. People here in Taiwan are better off than they are in mainland China. They’re freer than they are in mainland China. And they’re happier than they are in mainland China.  In fact, according to the World Happiness Index, they’re a full 37 places higher in terms of happiness than mainland China.

The reason I’ve come here this week is I am a huge admirer of Taiwan and the Taiwanese people. I want to do all I can to help ensure your continued success. I want to increase awareness of the position that you find yourselves in. And I’m also here because I believe that this is the most consequential place in the world for what is the most consequential struggle of our time.

If you look around us here in Taiwan you can see this island democracy is thriving. Under the brave leadership of President Tsai and the rule of law, we see state-of-the-art buildings, we see new industries emerging, we see modern technology and innovation. We see exports from Taiwan going around the world, whether it is semi-conductors or bubble tea. You are having a huge impact right across the globe and you’re powering the modern economy. 90% of the world’s most advanced microchips – 60% of mobiles, laptops and computers –  all have content produced here in Taiwan.

And the shipping routes that surround Taiwan are absolutely vital for global commerce. And if you look at the performance of the Taiwanese economy – 3.2% growth on average every year since 2013. Well, I can tell you many countries in the West have a lot to learn from Taiwan. Where we in our economies have seen an increase in regulation and an increase in the size of government, in Taiwan what we see is we see free enterprise powering a very successful economy.

You show us all the potential that free democracies have and you also show the importance of freedom and self-determination in delivering and being a successful nation.

And we can see what happens when that freedom is taken away. Because we saw that when tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989. We’ve seen it in Hong Kong when liberties have been eroded with the imposition of the National Security Law. And in Xinjiang, we have seen appalling targeting of Uyghurs with reports of forced sterilisation, forced labour and the arbitrary detention of over a million people. The human cost is huge and it is terrible.

We cannot allow those attacks on freedom to happen here. And I know that if freedom in Taiwan was threatened, that the people of Taiwan would stand up and they would fight. But you also need allies across the free world who are going to back you up. I am one of those allies and I know that you have many, many friends right across the free world.

I believe that the biggest danger for the future of Taiwan is fatalism. Not on your part, but a fatalism in the free world that somehow a Chinese takeover of Taiwan is inevitable. Some suspect that President Xi is waiting to subdue the enemy without fighting, as the military general Sun Tzu once put it.

It is vital that such a notion should not be aided and abetted by any of us living in free democracies. And I believe it’s completely irresponsible for European nations to wash their hands of Taiwan on the grounds that it’s a long way away or it’s not a core part of our concerns. I don’t think they could be more wrong. It is a core interest to the people of Europe. A blockade or an invasion of Taiwan would undermine freedom and democracy in Europe, just as a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a successful domination of Ukraine, would undermine freedom and democracy in the Pacific.

You only need to look at recent statements by a European Chinese diplomat repudiating the independent existence of the Baltic states to see that these two theatres are inextricably linked. I’m concerned that Ukraine should not be forced into some kind of unfair settlement by China. And I don’t believe we should be giving China leverage over European security. In fact, we should be fast-tracking Ukraine’s entry to NATO and providing Ukraine with all the weapons they need to make sure that Russia is pushed out of their country. And I’m also concerned that any compact might make it harder for us to defend Taiwan. All free nations must commit themselves to a free Taiwan and be prepared to back it up with concrete measures. And I’m going to talk later in my speech about what those measures should be.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of Taiwan isn’t just important for the people on this island and in this room. It’s important for the future of the world. Because where we are today in Taipei is on the front line of the global battle for freedom. The Chinese Communist Party is engaged in an ideological struggle with the free world and they have been very open and clear about that. They see our way of life, our way of operating, as a threat. And they’re openly in league with some of the worst regimes in the world, whether it’s Putin’s Russia, Iran or North Korea. This is a battle of ideas as much as it is an attempt to gain power on the global stage. Let’s remember that China is a totalitarian regime that actively describes the US and its allies as an empire that they want to see the end of.

China is now the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and what it wants to do is use this position to gain dominance. Now, there are many in the West who say we don’t want another Cold War. But we have to be clear that this is not a choice that we are in a position to make. Because China has already embarked on a self-reliance drive, whether we want to decouple from the economy or not. China is growing its navy at an alarming rate. It is undertaking the biggest military build-up in peacetime history. They’ve already formed alliances with other nations that want to see the free world in decline. They have already made their choice about their strategy.

The only choice we have is do we appease and accommodate that strategy or do we take action now to prevent conflict. Last summer, the new British Prime Minister described China as the biggest long-term threat in Britain and he said that the Confucius Institutes should be closed. He was right and we need to see those policies enacted urgently. The UK’s Integrated Review needs to be amended to make it absolutely clear that China is a threat. Confucius Institutes in the UK should be closed down immediately. Instead, the service could be provided by organisations with the support of Hong Kong nationals and Taiwanese nationals who’ve come to the United Kingdom freely.

We also need to make sure that we rule out the resumption of the economic and financial dialogue and the Joint Economic and Trade Commission. Because we cannot have more integration with the Chinese economy. Recently, there have been too many mixed messages from the free world. We need to end that ambiguity. This is because there are still too many in the West who are trying to cling on to the idea that we can somehow cooperate with China on issues like climate change as if there’s nothing wrong. As if there are bigger issues than Chinese global dominance or the future of freedom and democracy.

But without freedom and democracy, there is nothing else. We know what happens to the environment or to world health under totalitarian regimes that don’t tell the truth. You can’t believe a word they say. Look at what’s happening in terms of carbon production. New coal fire power stations are being fired up as we speak. And in China, local governments approved more coal power in the first three months of 2023 than they did in the whole of 2021.

China did not keep its promises on Hong Kong and crucial liberties have been eroded. Chinese officials speak of the Sino-British Declaration of 1984 as a meaningless historical document, despite it being a legally-binding declaration which is registered at the United Nations. And during the COVID pandemic, they refused to reveal what was going on within their shores, exacerbating the problem for the whole world.

But despite the evidence, some in the West continue to turn a blind eye for one simple reason. And that reason is economics. They’re determined to try and cling on to the failed globalist model that’s driven what people consider to be easy growth in Western societies. Until the recent inflation crisis, we had relatively low prices and regular reductions in prices often driven by cheap imports from China. We also saw significant investment into our economies. Of course, it hasn’t been easy for industrial parts of Britain producing goods like steel or ceramics that have found themselves undercut by goods with state subsidies or by intellectual property theft. But what I saw when I was in government is how the Treasury were very reluctant to take a tough line on China – wanting instead to have economic financial dialogues, wanting to have trade talks. And Britain is not unique in that respect.

Treasuries and finance ministries across the West are keen to engage with China because they’re driven by business interests who don’t want to give up lucrative Chinese investments or exports to China. And what we’ve also seen is self-censorship by companies who are worried about pushback from Beijing, including in particular parts of the film industry. But in the free world we have to face the fact that that economic model isn’t working anymore. China is becoming more self-reliant and Western economies are struggling with the balance we’ve got. We’ve got to do things differently. And in doing things differently, I think we should listen to the people who are in the know. And the people in the know are people here in Taiwan or people in Eastern Europe, who are forced to live next door to an authoritarian neighbour. They understand how great the threat we’re facing is.

I’m not surprised that it’s our brave Lithuanian friends who are prepared to withstand China’s attempts to undermine their commerce or the fact it was the Polish Prime Minister, who recently spoke out against those in Europe who would seek to appease the Chinese Communist Party. So what do we need to do collectively to deal with this challenge?

We need to remember how these regimes are successfully taken on. And they’re not successfully taken on by accommodation, appeasement or from adopting a position of weakness. They’re taken on through strength. What does that mean? Well, I’ve talked before about the idea of a network of liberty, of free nations working together.

Because let’s be honest, we can’t rely now on the UN Security Council, which was recently chaired by Putin’s Russia. And we can’t rely on the World Trade Organisation to make sure fair trade rules are in place. That is why we need to find other alternatives to get things done.

What I want to see on the economic side is the development of an economic NATO. Coordination between countries that support freedom and proper free enterprise. During the Cold War, we had the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, which was focused on how the free world collectively dealt with the USSR. I believe we need something similar to that. This would be an organisation that had proper ministerial representation and the right policies in place to agree the best approach towards China – the best approach to take on technology exports, the best approach in the event of economic coercion, the best approach on trade and investment.

Now there’s a very obvious group of countries that could get together to do that and that’s a group of countries that have already put sanctions on Russia that I was proud to take a lead on as Foreign Secretary and as Prime Minister. This group includes the G7 and it includes the EU but it could also include South Korea, Australia, and other willing parties.

We can also use trade agreements and trade pacts as a stepping stone to uphold freedom. I’m very pleased that the United Kingdom has now joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, the CPTPP, a vital geopolitical as well as a vital economic agreement. Now Taiwan applied to join the CPTPP in September 2021. I would be delighted to see that happen. Not only would it boost UK-Taiwan trade, which already stands at £8.6 billion a year, it would also help further build economic links for this important democracy.

I want the UK to champion the fast-tracking of Taiwan’s accession in collaboration with key members of the CPTPP. It is also vital that China is blocked from being a member of the CPTPP and I encourage the United Kingdom Government to say this publicly as well as governments in Japan and Canada and our other allies. As well as working together and having an economic NATO, which is vital for taking on the economic coercion and attempts to dominate by China, we also need to work more closely together on defence. We have NATO, we have the Indo-Pacific Quad and there are various other discussion mechanisms but fundamentally we need a more coordinated approach. In particular, to make sure that Taiwan has the defence it needs and is able to defend itself.

We cannot pretend that we have meaningful deterrence without hard power. And if we’re serious about preventing conflict in the South China Sea we need to get real about military and defence cooperation. That’s why I believe initiatives like AUKUS are so important and we’ve just seen AUKUS announce its plans to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine for Australia. GCAP will enable the UK, Italy and Japan to work together on the next generation of fighter jets. And we also need a coordinated approach on what exports we license to send to Taiwan. I know the US is already providing military aid to Taiwan as well. But in order to do that, we need to understand the situation on the ground. Too much policy is made without talking directly to Taiwan and in particular, we need to make sure that representative offices around the world are able to have those conversations and are able to have the status needed to be able to engage in those discussions.

The third thing we need to do, as well as more economic cooperation and more security cooperation, is to reduce dependence on China in all spheres. I’ve already talked about the need to not engage in new economic dialogues or further cooperation with China whilst it takes the aggressive stance that it has been taking. But we need to keep aware of all eventualities. If Beijing keeps its word and escalates aggression towards Taiwan, substantial decoupling will be unavoidable. If we fail to prepare for this, the consequent economic pain will be felt by all of our people across the free world. I know that when we first put sanctions on Russia when I was Foreign Secretary, there was a lot of resistance from organisations in the UK who were deeply embedded already with Russia. We need to be on the lookout for that with respect to China and take action now to make sure we’re prepared.

The final point I want to make goes back to what I said at the start about the economy and economic growth. Because we’re not going to beat China economically by becoming more like China. We need to make sure that free democracies have small governments, lower taxes and less bureaucracy so people want to invest in our countries. And we need to be able to reach out to third countries, many of whom are in the undecided camp, with a strong economic proposition. This is where I think we, in the UK and right around the free world, can learn from thriving economies like Taiwan who are getting that economic model right. Because we’re going to have to do significant economic reform at home to make sure we are match fit to take on these authoritarian regimes.

Finally, it’s been a huge honour to come to Taiwan and be able to talk to you about the future of freedom. I’m clear that we have to do all we can to support free democracies like Taiwan in the face of aggression from a Chinese regime whose record we already know. We in the West have a collective responsibility, not just to do the right thing by Taiwan, but also to hold China to account for its actions.

My visit this week is enabling me to communicate directly the solidarity that British people feel for the people of Taiwan. Taiwan really is a shining beacon in the Pacific. It’s an enduring rebuke to totalitarianism. It’s an example of the power of free enterprise and it shows the importance of a free society for human happiness. We in the United Kingdom and right across the world, need to do all we can to support you over the coming years. Your future is our future. Thank you.

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In Ten Years to Save the West, Truss, who as Prime Minister sought to champion limited government and individual freedom, will argue that the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the adoption of fashionable ideas propagated by the global left give us barely a decade to preserve the economic and cultural freedom and institutions that the West holds so dear.