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Tsai seeks talks with Xi despite China contempt for Taiwan

Beijing blasts island's 'independence' push after inauguration speech

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech to mark her inauguration for a second term on Wednesday.   © Kyodo

TAIPEI -- President Tsai Ing-wen played up Taiwan's growing global standing and said she sought talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an inauguration address after being sworn in for a second term on Wednesday.

Tsai said in her socially distanced speech at the Taipei Guest House that she was willing to engage in dialogue with China. "I want to reiterate the words 'peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue.' We will not accept the Beijing authorities' use of 'one country, two systems' to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo."

The president said cross-strait relations had reached a "historical turning point" and both Taipei and Beijing have a duty to find a way to coexist and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences.

"I also hope that the leader on the other side of the Strait will take on the same responsibility, and work with us to jointly stabilize the long-term development of cross-strait relations."

But China responded angrily, accusing her of seeking independence and the destruction of cross-strait relations.

"We will never allow any room for Taiwan independence in any kind of form," said Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council. "China has a strong will, and enough confidence as well as the capability to defend sovereignty and its territory."

While Tsai did not say she sought independence, she called the island the Republic of China (Taiwan) and referred to its 70-year history.

"In effect, it's an announcement that Taiwan became an independent country at the end of the Chinese civil war" that ended in 1949, said political risk analyst Ross Darrell Feingold.

"It is also a challenge to the Chinese Communist Party, which does not dispute the ROC's existence before 1949, and views Taiwan as home to the remnants of the ROC government as a result of an unresolved civil war," said Feingold, who has over 20 years' experience advising clients on political risk and doing business in Taiwan.

Tsai's inauguration ceremony comes as most parts of the world are still battling the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Taiwan was this week barred from attending the World Health Organization's annual assembly because of Chinese objections, despite the self-ruled democratic island being praised internationally for its handling of the crisis -- it has reported zero local cases for more than a month.

Tsai, who depicts herself as Taiwan's best defender against China, received a congratulatory note from the Trump administration's top diplomat the night before her inauguration, a signal of the warm relations between Taiwan and U.S. amid Washington-Beijing tensions.

"Taiwan's vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world," U.S. State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a tweet to congratulate Tsai. "With President Tsai at the helm, our partnership with Taiwan will continue to flourish."

Tsai in response said in a tweet that she looks forward to "furthering our friendship based on our many shared values and interests."

But the Pompeo tweet also angered China, which claims the self-governed democratic island as part of its territory.

China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Mike Pompeo seriously damaged the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and China-U.S. relations by making the congratulatory statement. Beijing will take countermeasures and Washington must bear the consequences, the ministry said in a statement.

"It is very apparent that Tsai will continue her pro-U. S. international policy in her second and last term as Taiwanese president, as she stresses that Taiwan will play a more active role in the Indo-Pacific region -- a term that is used by the United States," Pan Chao-min, a professor at Tunghai University's Graduate Institute of Political Science in Taiwan, told Nikkei.

"However, since Taiwan's formal and informal communication channels with China have been suspended for years, Taiwan's situation is also very dangerous when there is no trust between the U.S. and China, as it is very easy to misjudge the situation in cross-strait affairs."

On the coronavirus outbreak, Tsai warned that vigilance is still needed but played up the growing respect for Taiwan and its management of the pandemic.

"From January to now, Taiwan has amazed the international community twice. The first was our democratic elections, and the second was our success in the fight against COVID-19," she said.

"Over the next four years, only those who can end the pandemic within their borders, lay out a strategy for their country's survival and development, and take advantage of opportunities in the complex world of tomorrow, will be able to set themselves apart on the international stage."

She said her administration would seek to bolster critical industries such as semiconductors, IT, biotech, aerospace and space technologies that are critical to national security.

Perhaps hinting at Taiwan's exclusion from the WHO, Tsai said she would "continue to fight for our participation in international organizations, strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation with our allies, and bolster ties with the United States, Japan, Europe and other like-minded countries."

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