One of the World’s Hardest Diplomatic Jobs Is About to Open Up

One of the World’s Hardest Diplomatic Jobs Is About to Open Up
One of the World’s Hardest Diplomatic Jobs Is About to Open Up

Summary

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu says he will step down after six years sparring with an increasingly aggressive Beijing.

TAIPEI—Taiwan’s longest-serving foreign minister since the island became a democracy plans to vacate his post in the coming months, ending an eventful tenure during which he helped bring Taipei closer to Washington while flashing defiance at Beijing.

Joseph Wu said he would step down as foreign minister after Taiwan’s presidential election in January regardless of whether his party wins or loses. His decision to retire will deprive Taipei of an experienced hand at the top of its foreign ministry at an uncertain moment in ties between the U.S. and China.

“I’ve been in the job for almost six years and that is a long, long time," Wu said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, describing his post as “probably the most difficult foreign minister job in the world."

Wu has served as Taiwan’s global spokesperson during one of the most tumultuous periods for the island in recent memory, helping President Tsai Ing-wen tighten ties with the U.S. in the face of increasing Chinese pressure and using the shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine to raise the island’s global profile as a democratic bulwark in Asia.

China’s Communist government, which never ruled Taiwan but claims it as part of its territory, has sought to marginalize the island by persuading its diplomatic partners to not recognize its government and by roping Taipei out of international bodies such as the World Health Organization.

The ranks of countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically have shrunk to 13 from 20 during Wu’s time in the job. Maintaining those remaining ties is important, but Taiwan also needs to make new friends due to its uncertain diplomatic status, the foreign minister said.

“We cannot just rely on our diplomatic allies alone, because the number is quite small," he said. “We need to cultivate our friendship and partnership with major democracies."

In his first year as foreign minister, Taiwan lost three diplomatic allies, with two more going the following year. Honduras cut ties with Taiwan in March.

The lack of diplomatic relations with most countries requires Taiwan’s diplomats to do their work through informal outposts using carefully crafted language. It also can turn meetings that would be ordinary in other contexts into flashpoints.

In August 2022, Wu rolled out the red carpet for then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot on Taiwanese soil in a quarter-century. China responded with a weeklong military show of force, encircling Taiwan with missile fire, as well as sending jet fighters and naval ships.

Wu held a press conference warning an international audience that China’s “ambition and impact is extending far beyond Taiwan."

China has continued to run drills around Taiwan at an aggressive pace.

In April, Wu traveled with Tsai for a transit visit in California, where the Taiwanese president met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, marking the highest-level meeting between a Taiwanese leader and a U.S. official.

Taiwan, a central point of tension in the U.S.-China relationship, is holding its quadrennial presidential election next month. The leading candidate, Vice President Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has drawn strong criticism from Beijing, which sees him as an advocate of Taiwanese independence. The two opposition candidates promise more dialogue with China.

Under Tsai, Taiwan has strengthened its ties with Washington at the expense of Beijing. Lai, who is deeply distrustful of the Chinese government, has vowed to maintain the status quo and follow Tsai’s policies.

Wu’s outspoken and often satirical approach to social media is unusual for a foreign minister.

“The new @freedomhouse report on internet freedom lists #Taiwan 5th in the world. #China is in very last place for the 8th consecutive year. The Chinese people deserve freedom, on the net or physically. Let them use #Twitter, OK? JW," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, from the official account of Taiwan’s foreign ministry, signing with his initials.

In the interview with the Journal, he said with pride that he has conducted more than 300 interviews with foreign media outlets.

“The international community is paying more attention to Taiwan than ever," he said. “So this is something that I’m rather proud of."

Write to Joyu Wang at joyu.wang@wsj.com

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