Former activist Lin Fei-fan is now one of Taiwan’s president’s most influential advisors. In the interview, the 34-year-old clarifies why his country does not want to become part of China and how willing his compatriots are to fight for it.

FOCUS online: In recent years, many people around the world have learned many new things about Taiwan due to the aggression that the People’s Republic of China is exercising against its democratic neighbor. What new things have you learned in the past few weeks?

Lin Fei-fan: Since Nancy Pelosi’s visit, China has escalated tensions through unprecedented and disproportionate military action, economic coercion and diplomatic sanctions. The shift is so severe that some analysts have called it the most dangerous cross-strait development since the 1996 missile crisis.

Are these events related internally?

Lin: If you look at history, whenever China posed a military threat to Taiwan, the outcome was always the opposite of China’s expectations.

During the first missile crisis, China wanted to intimidate the Taiwanese and prevent them from voting for President Lee Teng-hui. This was the year direct elections for the presidency were introduced. The result of China’s efforts was that Lee won by an overwhelming majority and more than 70 percent of the people went to the polls.

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The people weren’t afraid. They came together in solidarity and showed the will to defeat China. The same is happening today, the government is preparing to face the threats, reforming its defense systems and mobilizing the citizens to prepare for any threats. Polls show that more than 70 percent of Taiwanese are willing to fight and defend the country from invasion.

You were active in the Sunflower Movement, which campaigned to curb China’s influence on Taiwan as early as 2014. They feared at the time that Beijing would lure Taiwan into its orbit through economic ties and gradually rob it of its freedom. Today, the daily provocations of the Chinese military prove that the assessment of the sunflower movement at the time was correct. What can Taiwan do now to resist the hostilities Chinese leader Xi Jinping is directing against the country?

Lin: The sunflower movement came about when most people were worried about Taiwan’s relationship with China. The previous government had signed over 20 different deals with China, and one of the largest was the cross-strait trade deal.

The strategy was to sign a wide range of trade deals with the Chinese Communist Party-led government, followed by a joint deal on commodities, and then launch political dialogue for eventual unification. The Kuomintang-Beijing agenda was not going in the right direction and would have been difficult to reverse. Fortunately, this has not happened so far.

On the other hand, Taiwan is now in acute danger of war.

Lin: We’re doing everything we can to prevent war. But we also know that appeasement will not bring peace. Only solid strength can guarantee Taiwan’s security and the peace and stability of the region. Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of Taiwanese, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, are ready to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack.

Our government is actively developing asymmetric combat capability, increasing national defense capabilities, reforming reserve forces and military training. And this year we will increase our military budgets by 13.7 percent. It is also important for Taiwan to gain support from the international community.

“One country, two systems” was the Hong Kong formula, which should have been applied to Taiwan as well. With Hong Kong invaded and stripped of its constitutional rights and democratic freedoms, “one country, two systems” is no longer an option for the vast majority of Taiwanese voters. What strategy is the government now pursuing for coexistence with the People’s Republic of China?

Lin: President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy is clear and was outlined by her in the Four Commitments speech during the 2021 National Day. The four commitments are: We must commit to a free and democratic constitutional system. We must insist that the ROC and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other.

We must resist annexation or encroachment on our sovereignty. And we must work to ensure that the future of the ROC (Taiwan) must be decided in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people.

At the same time that you were active in the sunflower movement, Joshua Wong and other young people were getting involved in the umbrella movement in Hong Kong, trying to do the same thing you were trying to do in Taiwan. Unfortunately, Hong Kong activists are now in prison or in exile. Tsai Ing-wen expressed her support for Hong Kong’s democratic defenders under siege. Is Taiwan ready to accept Hong Kong refugees?

Lin: We are making every effort to help Hong Kongers, especially those in need, although we have not used certain titles such as refugees. But the government is providing humanitarian assistance to these dissidents in Hong Kong, including granting them residency status.

How do you see the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? Is that a foreseeable scenario or more of a saber rattling?

Lin: Xi’s goal is to eventually annex Taiwan. After Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China made a major national shift from Deng Xiaoping’s “hide and bid” approach to a new strategy that actively and aggressively pursues the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

International policies like the Belt and Road Initiative and debt diplomacy have expanded China’s influence in developing countries. Internally, the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down on domestic rights protections and democratic movements, including those in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Red Alert: How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war

Cross-strait policy under Xi is no exception to bold changes in China’s national strategy. China has worked tirelessly to curb Taiwan’s development as a sovereign nation and undermine its democratic system, tirelessly pursuing reunification. The likelihood of persistent tension is quite high.

We face this war scenario while not giving up hope of resolving differences through dialogue on an equal footing. After all, nobody wants war. The whole world would feel its effects.

A large majority of people in Taiwan define themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese. What do you think best describes Taiwanese identity?

Lin: Since democratization, the majority of Taiwanese see themselves as Taiwan. I would say democratization, especially after 1996 when Taiwanese people could vote for their own President and decide the country’s future, shaped and consolidated this Taiwanese identity. Democracy gives us Taiwanese our identity.

Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian is currently working on a project on “digital cosmopolitanism” at the Internet Institute at Oxford University and the Faculty of Philosophy at New York University.

Alexander Görlach was a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in the USA and Cambridge University in England. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. He has recently published the following titles: “Red Alert: Why China’s Aggressive Foreign Policy in the Western Pacific Is Leading to a Global War” (Hoffmann

From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the New York Times. He lives in New York and Berlin.

Lin Fei-fan (34) is the deputy general secretary of President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan. In 2014 he was one of the activists leading the Sunflower Movement. With their month of protest, the young people achieved a government and thus a change of policy towards the People’s Republic of China.