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International relations

Taiwan calls for US commitment as China turns up heat

Tsai Ing-wen lauds historic ties ahead of 40th anniversary of Taiwan Relations Act

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said April 9 that China is threatening the island's democracy.   © Reuters

BEIJING/TAIPEI -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday sought greater American involvement in helping to ensure the island's security as China ratchets up military pressure.

Wednesday marks 40 years since the U.S. enacted the Taiwan Relations Act, which promotes commercial and cultural relations with the island even after Washington established diplomatic ties with mainland China. In the weeks ahead of the anniversary, China engaged in jet flybys across a de facto maritime border with Taiwan and issued a veiled threat of a strike.

Through the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. Congress "made sure that Taiwan would survive its darkest hour and have the opportunity to transform itself into the free society and robust democracy we are today," Tsai said in a Tuesday video call to an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The act reflects "the United States' commitment to our shared interests of peace, security and stability in the Pacific," Tsai said.

She raised alarms over Chinese military overtures, which she said were detrimental to regional peace and stability. Tsai expressed hopes of further arms sales to Taiwan to help the island defend itself.

"I hope that the United States can make clear at a very senior level that it considers the security of Taiwan vital to the defense of democracy," she said.

Cross-strait tensions have been on the rise since late last month, starting with Tsai's March 27 meeting with a Hawaii National Guard general while returning home from a Pacific tour. On March 31, China flew two fighters over to the Taiwanese side of the maritime border in the Taiwan Strait.

It is "possible" that the Chinese military will carry out targeted strikes on a Taiwanese military base, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said in an editorial last week.

Beijing considers the mainland and Taiwan part of "One China" and rejects the existence of the median line. The March 31 crossing was initially considered an accident, but the Global Times editorial suggests that it may have been intentional.

"We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means," Chinese President Xi Jinping had said in a January speech, departing from immediate predecessor Hu Jintao's silence on the topic.

Xi's hawkish stance underscores an effort to appease hard-liners at home. As the trade war weighs on the economy, he looks to prevent such discontent from spreading to the public.

But the situation has escalated, with Washington flashing its military might amid intensifying trade negotiations. The U.S. Navy sent ships through the Taiwan Strait, including an Aegis-equipped destroyer, in March.

Tensions only grew as the Taiwan Relations Act's anniversary approached. A spokesperson for the American Institute in Taiwan -- the de facto U.S. embassy on the island -- acknowledged April 3 that American military personnel have been stationed there since 2005 for security purposes. This was significant, given that the U.S. and Taiwan do not have formal diplomatic relations.

Taiwanese authorities revealed Tuesday that the U.S. Defense Department has approved $5.7 million in arms maintenance services for the island.

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