News: Winston Peters praises Taiwan, makes thinly veiled criticism of China at diplomatic event in Taipei

The following story is an article posted to on October 7th 2022 and higlights New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters' recent trip to Taipei.

Former deputy prime minister Winston Peters has travelled to Taiwan and launched into a thinly veiled criticism of China at a diplomatic forum.

Peters was in Taipei on Friday attending the Yushan Forum, held by the Taiwan government to bolster ties with countries to its south. The former foreign minister was front-and-centre at the event, sitting alongside Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen​ and the second guest to give an opening address.

“If there were more Taiwans would this world be a better place? And the answer is compellingly, irrefutably yes,” he said in a speech.

“We come here today with no secret agenda. No ulterior motive, no malignant velvet glove [or] alternative programme, and let us all be clear today.

"Taiwan believes in freedom. So do we. Taiwan believes in democracy. So do we. Taiwan believes in the rule of law. So do we. Taiwan believes that citizens have the right to question their governments. And so do we.”

Relations with Taiwan are a sensitive issue for the New Zealand Government, which, as with most other countries, recognises that China has a “one China policy” under which it considers Taiwan to be part of its territory. New Zealand maintains an economic but not diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, in accordance with China’s requirement of countries it has diplomatic relations with.

China, which has promised to one day take control of Taiwan, has responded angrily to government officials visiting the island nation, considering it a breach of its “one China policy”. In August, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, and China in response conducted military drills that simulated an invasion around island nation.

Though Peters was referred to as a representative of New Zealand at the event and spoke on behalf of the forum’s guests at an initial meeting with Tsai, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has insisted Peters was not representing New Zealand.

Other speakers at the forum included Palau president Surangel S. Whipps Jr., Japanese politician Keiji Furuya and former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop.

In his speech, given on Friday afternoon NZ time, Peters indirectly criticised China’s “one China policy”, saying Taiwan’s “status” was not as “clear, or cut and dry, or certain as some would insist or claim”.

Yet this claim about Taiwan’s status, he said, had “us all ... dancing on a pin-head of ambiguity and uncertainty as to where we all stand”.

“It is perhaps the time to seriously ask why is Taiwan’s status, for some, such a vexed issue?”

He said the global attention paid to Taiwan would be understandable if its people were “victims of governmental tyranny and living under conditions of economic misery”, but this was not the case.

“The very opposite is a truth to celebrate, not to condemn. Taiwan is a world leader, economically and socially. That is the real status quo that I'm sure we here today, wish to help build on and go forward.

“And let's ask ourselves, or some of those others watching, a simple question: If there were more Taiwans would our world be a better place?”

He repeated this question three times before answering it himself.

"We are saying, if left peacefully to continue, we – the rest of the world – will be the beneficiaries, and go on being the beneficiaries, of Taiwan's success.”

Asked afterward if he was criticising China in the speech, Peters said: “You’ll just have to read my words”.

He said he was invited by Taiwan to attend the forum and would be speaking again later on Friday about “the kind of partnerships we need to reinvigorate”

"We're all coming out of Covid .... and we have a look with new eyes [about] how we can refresh the relationship. But that goes with every country, in terms of intensifying our trading reach, so to speak, which we need to be better at as a country,” Peters said, in an interview.

He said he had not discussed the trip with MFAT, as the ministry served the current foreign minister, and he knew enough about the “niceties and tactics required not to infringe on those boundaries”.

“I’m a New Zealand politician who’s been around since the 1970s, who’s got grasp of this longstanding relationship.”

A MFAT spokesperson said Peters did not represent New Zealand at the event and he received no funding from the Government to participate in the forum.

The ministry “was not consulted on Peters’ programme or the content of his speech nor would it expect to”.

A spokesperson at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, the de-facto Taiwan embassy in Wellington, confirmed Peters had been invited by Taiwan to attend the event. The office’s representative, Bill Chen, was unavailable for an interview on Friday afternoon.

In a statement published by Tsai’s office, the president told Peters and other guests that Taiwan wanted to “increase co-operation with you and like-minded countries”.

“I want to thank you for your longstanding attention to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and also for supporting and speaking up for Taiwan's participation in the international arena,” she told the guests.