Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen said the island’s economic ties with the mainland had become increasingly competitive rather than complementary, adding that Taipei would neither budge under political pressure from Beijing nor revert to a confrontational attitude towards it.
Tsai, who is also chairwoman of the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, also said Taiwan paid close attention to “how the mainland handles Hong Kong people’s pursuit of democracy, freedom and human rights”, according to a transcript released by the presidential office of Tsai’s video interview with the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
Relations across the Taiwan Strait have been particularly strained since Tsai’s inauguration in May, which Beijing blames on Tsai’s failure to explicitly acknowledge the “1992 consensus” reached between the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan’s then-ruling Kuomintang leadership that there was one China, though either side was free to interpret what that meant.
Since then, cross-strait ties have deteriorated as Beijing cut off official contact and exchanges with Taiwan, reportedly exerted pressure on international organisations and individual countries to shun Taiwan, and stemmed the flow of mainland tourists to the island.
“Recently, mainland China seems to have gone back to the old path of suppression and dividing [Taiwan society],” Tsai said, citing the recent case of Taiwan being denied participation at a recent meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in Montreal, a decision believed to be made under pressure from Beijing.
“[I] hope mainland China does not misinterpret or misjudge the current situation, or think that it can make Taiwanese bow to pressure. In a democratic society, this kind of pressure is felt by all,” Tsai said.
Taiwan and the mainland have remained split since 1949 when the Kuomintang lost the Chinese civil war and retreated to the island. Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade Chinese province that will be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
“We will not bow to pressure, but neither are we planning or willing to revert to the old path of confrontation,” she said.
The Taiwan leader also called for resumption of direct talks with mainland authorities, but insisted that such talks should not be based on “preconditions”.
Beijing has for years been forging its bonds with the island through economic ties, leveraging on the vast Taiwanese business investments on the mainland.
But Tsai said even economic ties had became “increasingly competitive”, saying Taiwanese products and services were being replaced by “mainland counterparts”.
Regarding the South China Sea, where both Beijing and Taipei laid territorial claims inherited from the pre-1949 Kuomintang regime, Tsai said Taiwan’s claim conformed with international law and that it supported consultations between a small number of countries to settle the disputes.
She also said that whoever was elected the next US president, ties between Taiwan and the US would remain intact.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it was closely monitoring warming ties between the Vatican and Beijing amid concerns that the normalisation of the Holy See’s relations with the mainland might come at the expense of its ties with Taiwan.
The Vatican is the only remaining sovereign state in Europe to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
“[We are] aware of the dialogue and related developments between the Holy See and mainland China; it is closely monitoring the situation,” the ministry said in a letter today responding to an inquiry by the South China Morning Post about Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen’s visit to the Holy See in early September.
Pope Francis said last week that the discussions over possible resumption of diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Holy See were progressing “slowly” but in a “good ” direction, after receiving a present from Chinese President Xi Jinping sent via a Chinese delegation that had attended a Vatican conference.