January 3, 2017

Taiwan: President Criticises China for Resorting to Threats to Intimidate Island

Photo Courtesy of The Guardian

On 31 December 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen told journalists at a year-end news conference [31 December 2016] that China has resorted to military and economic threats to intimidate Taiwan. Tensions between Taiwan and China had already begun to intensify when American president-elect Donald Trump and Ms Tsai spoke on the phone, in doing so breaking longstanding diplomatic practice and the US’s “One China” policy. Ms Tsai referred to China upping its military activities near Taiwan, while Beijing also announced that São Tomé and Príncipe, one of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, had switched its allegiance to mainland China. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had called on the United States to prevent Ms Tsai from entering the US, claiming that such a visit – even if just in transit – would embolden independence activists in Taiwan. 

 

Below is an article published by The New York Times:

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan sharply criticized China’s leaders on Saturday [31 December 2016], saying they had resorted to military and economic threats in order to intimidate the island.

“Step by step, Beijing is going back to the old path of dividing, coercing and even threatening and intimidating Taiwan,” she told journalists in Taipei, the capital, at a year-end news conference.

Tensions between Taiwan and China, which have been rivals since the Communist Revolution of 1949, intensified in December [2016] after Ms. Tsai spoke on the phone with the American president-elect, Donald J. Trump, breaking a longstanding diplomatic practice.

In recent weeks, China has stepped up military activities near Taiwan, sending its sole aircraft carrier through the waters near the island and dispatching military planes in the region. On Monday [2 January 2017], Beijing announced that São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa that was one of Taiwan’s fewer than two dozen remaining diplomatic allies, had switched its allegiance to the mainland, provoking an outcry in Taiwan.

Despite Beijing’s recent actions, which she said had “hurt the feelings” of the Taiwanese people and destabilized relations, Ms. Tsai vowed to avoid a confrontation.

“We will not bow to pressure, and we will of course not revert to the old path of confrontation,” she said.

Ms. Tsai faces the delicate task of registering discontent with Beijing while also sending a message that Taiwan will exercise restraint. The United States, which sees Taiwan as one of its most reliable allies in Asia and has sold billions of dollars of weapons to the island, has long sought to avoid a conflict between the two sides.

But the election of Mr. Trump could complicate matters. He has antagonized Beijing with a series of critical comments. The president-elect has also questioned the One China policy, which has underpinned relations between Washington and Beijing for decades, and criticized China’s military buildup in the disputed South China Sea.

Bonnie S. Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Ms. Tsai’s words might reassure American officials that she would not pursue rash policies in the face of China’s show of strength.

“She remains calm, rational and patient,” Ms. Glaser wrote in an email.

Still, Ms. Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party has traditionally favored independence for Taiwan, could face serious challenges in the coming months.

Many people in Taiwan are nervous that Mr. Trump will use the island as a bargaining chip against China. And Ms. Tsai’s preference for stability in the region may not mesh with Mr. Trump’s bombastic style.

Richard C. Bush, the director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Ms. Tsai understood the need to “maintain a balance among relations with China, relations with the United States and domestic politics.”

Ms. Tsai’s vision, however, “may not align well with the incoming Trump administration’s apparent belief that it can pressure China on all fronts more than the Obama administration has,” he said.

Ms. Tsai also sought to quell concerns about planned stopovers in Houston and San Francisco during a visit to Central America scheduled for January [2017].

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday [29 December 2016] called on the United States to block Ms. Tsai from entering the country, warning that such a visit would embolden independence activists in Taiwan.

Ms. Tsai described the visit as “unofficial,” saying, “A transit stop is just a transit stop.”