Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech at the Office of the President in Taipei, Taiwan. Wu Taijing/ AP
Taiwan is ready to have “meaningful” talks with China as equals as long as they are willing to put aside confrontation, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday, offering another olive branch to Beijing in her New Year’s speech.
Democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sovereign territory, has come under increasing pressure from Beijing, which has ramped up military activity near the island.
China says it is responding to “collusion” between Washington and Taipei, angered at growing US support for the self-governed island. Beijing views this a precursor to Taiwan declaring formal independence, a red line for China.
Speaking at the presidential office, Tsai said that in the past year, Chinese military activity near Taiwan has threatened peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I want to reiterate, that when it comes to cross-strait relations we will not advance rashly and will stick to our principles,” Tsai said.
“As long as the Beijing authorities are determined to defuse antagonism and improve cross-strait relations, in line with the principles of reciprocity and dignity, we are willing to jointly promote meaningful dialogue,” she added, echoing comments she made in October in her national day speech.
China, which cut off a formal talks mechanism in 2016 after she first won office, has repeatedly rejected Tsai’s advances, saying she has to first accept Taiwan is part of China, something Tsai has refused to do.
Tsai expressed her hope that once the COVID-19 epidemic is under control, “normal and orderly exchanges to increase understanding and reduce misunderstandings” between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait can resume.
While there was no direct response from Beijing, Liu Jieyi, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in his new year’s message they would stand by the “one China” principle.
“Only by eliminating the scourge of ‘Taiwan independence’ can there be peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Switching to English, Tsai said she was deeply grateful for the international community’s continued backing for Taiwan.
“Our democracy is stronger because of your support.”
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased its military activity around the island in recent months, responding to what Beijing calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s most important international backer.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited a low-key but critical maintenance base for fighter jet engines on Saturday, offering encouragement as the Chinese-claimed island’s armed forces strain in the face of repeated Chinese air force incursions.
In a speech after being sworn in for her second and final term in office, Tsai said relations between Taiwan and China had reached an historical turning point. "Both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences," she said.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will pledge to strengthen the island’s defences and work more with regional partners on security in a major speech on Saturday, at a time when tensions with its giant neighbour China have risen dramatically.
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