Tsai seeks talks with Xi Jinping over Taiwan-China ties

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in for her second term on Wednesday morning, and used her inauguration speech to emphasize Taiwan’s growing standing in the world and seek talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“We are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security,” Tsai said in a socially distanced speech at the Presidential Palace in Taipei. “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.”

Saying cross-strait relations had reached a “historical turning point,” Tsai said 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.”

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 China’s objected, despite the self-ruled democratic island being praised internationally for its handling of the crisis — it has reported zero local cases for more 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. The move may further irritate China, which claims the self-governed democratic island as part of its territory.

“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.”

Ross Darrell Feingold, a political risk analyst who has over 20 years’ experience advising clients on political risk and doing business in Taiwan, said China will continue to repeat its actions of the past four years. These, he said, would include military exercises, attempts to prevent Taiwan from substantive participation in international organizations, and persuading countries who still have formal relations with Taiwan to sever ties.

“Obviously, the government and people of Taiwan must take seriously the potential for military conflict, whether during or in the intermediate aftermath of the virus outbreak, or, in the medium and long term,” Feingold told the Nikkei Asian Review.

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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