Taiwan President Urges China to Pursue Dialogue, Not Conflict
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen opened 2021 by reaffirming her willingness to talk with China, while vowing to stand up to mounting military pressure from Beijing.
Tsai used a brief News Year’s Day address Friday to criticize the near-daily patrols of Chinese military ships and aircraft that have stretched Taiwan’s more limited military resources. She warned that the actions had “threatened the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” while calling on Beijing to restore communication channels it cut off after her election in 2016.
“We are willing to jointly promote meaningful dialogue,” Tsai said, so long as Beijing is willing to “defuse antagonism and improve cross-strait relations, in line with the principles of reciprocity and dignity.”
The Taiwanese president has sought to position her democratically elected government as a bulwark against increasing Chinese influence in the region. Beijing considers Taiwan as part of its territory, despite having never controlled it, and has sought to raise the pressure on Tsai by luring away diplomatic partners and expanding military patrols around the island.
Taiwan has raised its international profile over the past year through its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with only seven confirmed Covid-19 deaths among its population of 23 million. In 2020, Taiwan was a rare success story, underpinning a booming stock market and one of the strongest performances among developed economies.
“We have shown again and again that ‘Taiwan can help,’” Tsai said. “As a force for good in the world, we will continue to be an indispensable member of the international community, both now and into the future.”
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Beijing has so far refused to hold any talks with Tsai unless she accepts that both sides belong to “one China.” That was the position accepted by Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, who saw ties flourish with Beijing, including an unprecedented meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015.
Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a briefing Wednesday in Beijing that relations between the two sides were “complicated and grim” in 2020, citing “separatist forces” in Taipei and changes in the international landscape. But Zhu struck a more conciliatory tone for the coming year, saying China pledged to “proactively promote peaceful development and integration.”
Tsai is seeking to build on the momentum of last year, when she won a second term and U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration continued to improve ties with Taipei. Taiwan is awaiting signs of whether President-elect Joe Biden will continue that support after he takes office on Jan. 20.
The Taiwanese president defended her decision to lift long-standing curbs on certain U.S. pork products, a move aimed at facilitating trade talks with Washington that prompted protests at home. The reaction “made me fully experience why the previous government made promises, but was unable to implement them,” Tsai said.
— With assistance by Jing Li
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