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INTERVIEW | Liz Truss on Forming a Strong Economic Alliance to Counter China's Threat

China will keep coercing countries with strings-attached investments, and democracies need to combat that by opening up trade opportunities, says Liz Truss.



Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss (© Sankei by Kazumasa Bando)

In May, Liz Truss became the second former British prime minister to visit Taiwan following Margaret Thatcher's trip in 1996.

In an interview with JAPAN Forward, Truss voiced her support for Taiwan's inclusion in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). She also proposed the establishment of an "economic NATO" as a means to counter China's economic pressures.

Highlighting the similarities between Taiwan and Ukraine as democracies threatened by autocratic regimes, Truss warned that a Russian victory would send a dangerous message to China's Xi Jinping.

Furthermore, she underscored the significance of Japan-United Kingdom cooperation, citing the Reciprocal Access Agreement and the free trade agreement. Notably, Truss negotiated the latter while serving as the UK trade secretary.

Excerpts of the interview follow. 

The UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement was signed by former International Trade Secretary  Liz Truss and former Japanese Foreign Minister  Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo on October 23, 2022. (© Crown copyright)

Trip to Taiwan

Impressions of Taiwan

People there understand the value of freedom because they're 80 miles away from the world's largest totalitarian state. And yet, this is a free society that enjoys free speech, free enterprise, and the ability for people to shape their own lives. 

Meeting Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen

She's been a hugely impressive leader of Taiwan. We talked about Taiwan's economic record, which has been very strong. They've seen over 3% growth for the last 10 years. We talked about Taiwan's economy — how important it is to the global economy. I told her about the support that Taiwan has in the United Kingdom.

The China Threat

China's Threat to Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific

The Chinese president has been very clear about his intentions, which is the so-called reunification of Taiwan. And we've seen increasing levels of threat, so increasingly aggressive behavior. 

What I believe President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party are trying to do is limit the space Taiwan has to operate. This is why it's so important for politicians from the free world to be talking to the Taiwanese, engaging [with] and supporting the Taiwanese. 

Because to me, the future of Taiwan is absolutely critical to a free and open Indo-Pacific. And whether that's because of the trade that flows through the Taiwan Strait — obviously the very important semiconductor industry. But also that if China was able to take Taiwan, that would send a terrible message about freedom and democracy


Democratic Cooperation with Taiwan

I'd like us to see Taiwan accede to the CPTPP. First of all, there is just a clear economic benefit. If you look at the UK and Taiwan, there's £8.5 billion GBP [$10.5 billion USD] worth of trade and that would increase if Taiwan were to join the CPTPP. 

And it links Taiwan more closely to countries that follow the rules on trade and free enterprise that underpin democracy. It would bring Taiwan economically closer to countries like Japan, which is obviously the biggest player in the CPTPP. And it would make it easier for Taiwan to resist economic coercion.

China will continue to try to coerce countries. They'll continue to try with strings-attached investments through the Belt and Road Initiative to bring more countries onto their side. And we need to combat that by opening up our trade opportunities.

Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss is greeted by Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on May 16, 2023. (© Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan)

The War in Ukraine

Similarities Between Taiwan and Ukraine

Obviously, it is a very different situation. However, what we have seen is, in both cases, a threat to freedom and democracy by an authoritarian regime. 

My feeling is that we didn't do enough soon enough to show Russia that we were serious about backing Ukraine. Therefore, we need to learn that lesson and do as much as we can to show that we are serious about backing Taiwan. 

China and Russia's Relationship

We're seeing authoritarian regimes working much more closely together, and that is a threat to the free world.

I support Russia withdrawing from Ukraine, but I don't think we should be relying on the Chinese to achieve that. The best way to achieve that is to support the Ukrainians with the most advanced weapons, with all the support we can give them. 

If Russia were ever to be successful — I don't think it will be — it would give a huge signal to President Xi that he would be able to act with much less opposition. 

Fighters of the Russian private military company Wagner stand in front of a damaged building in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, April 10. (© TASS via Kyodo)

The G7 Hiroshima Summit

G7 Comminuque

Japan has done an excellent job of leading the G7. And there was very positive news coming out of the summit in Hiroshima. First of all, the very clear statement about Taiwan, but also the announcement to work together on economic coercion. So the world's large free economies are working together and coordinating. What I would like to see is regular meetings of ministers to take a common position on Chinese economic coercion.

President Zelenskyy in Hiroshima

Japan has been very, very active in putting sanctions on Russia and supporting the Ukrainians. And I'm sure President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy's visit was partly a reflection of the support that Japan has shown for Ukraine. 

I think the [Japanese] prime minister has done an excellent job. And the G7 has become the leading voice in the security of Ukraine, the leading coordinator of the sanctions against Russia, and is now leading in supporting Taiwan.

President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and other G7 leaders pose for a photo before a working session on Ukraine during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (© Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS)

Alliance of Democracies

Europe's Reliance on China

This is back to the point I've been making about an "economic NATO." We need to be sourcing those types of materials from like-minded countries. During the COVID pandemic, we began to realize just how dependent we were on China for some absolutely critical goods. And we need to diversify our supply [chains]. 

Japan-UK Cooperation

We're both island nations and we're both democracies. We are both concerned about China threatening our way of life. And this is why when I was trade secretary, I negotiated the new trade deal with Japan. We've got the CPTPP and the reciprocal access agreement. We're working closer and closer together. 


I'd like to see continuing business investment in both directions here. We already have a lot of big Japanese investors like Nissan, for example, in the UK. I think we could cooperate more in areas like technology, and I know we've signed some agreements around that. But to me, this is an extremely close relationship and it's getting closer. 

UK's Engagement With the Indo-Pacific

Japan is obviously very important as a partner and we are engaging others across the Pacific region. I think joining the CPTPP is going to have a dramatic effect on the UK and really put us in a position where we have closer economic relationships across the Pacific region. It's building that network of like-minded countries and working with them. 

We recognize that the challenges we face are global and China is not restricting itself to the Pacific. China is investing in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. So we need to have an approach that is global in its outlook.


(Read the related Japanese articles here and here.)

Interview by Kazumasa Bando

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