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Politics

Taiwan's leader urges China to show restraint amid renewed tensions

Tsai says Beijing will alienate Taiwanese with its growing menace toward island

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 31 said Beijing could hurt bilateral ties with Taiwan over its military intimidation. (Photo by Kensaku Ihara)

TAIPEI -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Saturday said that China could hurt its ties with Taiwan over its growing economic and military saber-rattling.

The Taiwanese leader said she hoped the actions over the past few months were not a shift in Beijing's policies toward the island. "I would like to remind [China] that such moves will hurt Taiwanese people's feelings and undermine the stability of relations across the Taiwan Strait," Tsai told reporters at the presidential office during her year-end press conference.

Tsai added that while her government will continue to adopt a friendly manner toward Beijing, "We will not cave under pressure, and we will not revert to a confrontational approach."

Tsai's comments came a week ahead of her visit to Taiwan's four allies in Central America -- El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. She will also transit in the U.S. cities of Houston and San Francisco, to and from Central America, respectively, although it is unclear whether she will be meeting key figures close to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

Tsai remained low-key about her U.S stopovers, the most important part of her upcoming trip, and did not elaborate on her itinerary.

Relations between Taiwan and China have cooled significantly since Tsai, which Beijing sees as a staunch supporter of the island's independence from the mainland, took office in May.

Chinese officials have been dismayed at Tsai's departure from the stance of her China-friendly predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, with her refusal to recognize the "1992 consensus," a controversial principle that Beijing sees as Taiwan's commitment to eventual unification between the two sides.

Beijing has since cut the number of Chinese group tours traveling to Taiwan and has insisted that cross-strait relations cannot move forward without the "1992 consensus" serving as the foundation of bilateral exchanges.

Taiwan is also often squeezed in the middle of disputes between the U.S., its most important strategic partner and sole weapons supplier, and China, which maintains the possibility of using force to bring the island into its fold.

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait, from time to time considered to be one of the world's most dangerous flash points, and within Asia have also been rising due to spats between Trump and the Chinese authorities.

Over the past month, the Chinese military has twice dispatched aircraft to fly around Taiwan.

Beijing further stoked the tensions when it announced on Dec. 24 that its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was heading toward the Western Pacific for the first time for an open-sea drill. Two days later, the Liaoning passed south of Taiwan and entered the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

In late December, the western African nation of Sao Tome and Principe cut ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China, days after Taipei declined to fulfill the impoverished country's demand for some $2 billion in grants and low-interest loans.

Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee has warned that other allies of Taipei could sever ties to curry favor with China.

The developments come as Trump has been pushing American companies to move manufacturing jobs from China to the U.S. and threatening to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.

The president-elect again drew ire from Beijing when he accepted a call from Tsai on Dec. 2, the highest-level dialogue between Washington and Taipei since the U.S. cut ties with Taiwan and switched recognition to Beijing in 1979. Trump even took to Twitter to defend the call and addressed Tsai as "president," which was seen as an affront to Beijing.

A few days later, Trump hinted during a television interview that he may consider ditching Washington's longstanding "one China" policy that has served as a cornerstone of U.S.-China relations since 1972. With the directive, Washington acknowledges China's claim over Taiwan, even though the mainland and the island split amid a civil war in 1949.

On Dec. 15, China seized a U.S. Navy underwater drone in the South China Sea but returned it five days later.

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