Vows of steely resolve on both sides of Taiwan Strait

Xi Jinping pledges to protect sovereignty, while Tsai Ing-wen says she can handle ‘uncertainties’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 11:16pm

Chinese mainland President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned that Beijing would not soften its stance on territorial integrity, as Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen said the self-ruled island could face uncertainties in the months ahead given the change in the US administration.

In a new year address shown on CCTV, Xi said Beijing was determined to protect the nation’s territorial and maritime rights. “Chinese people will not give in to whoever makes things up in ­respect to these issues,” he said.

Any strategy by Beijing to leave Taiwan stripped of allies may well backfire

The central government has become increasingly concerned with political developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where ­resistance to the mainland’s influence has grown.

Beijing accuses independence advocates in the two places of working together, and earlier warned efforts to link up were doomed to fail. It regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

Speaking at a year-end press conference, Tsai said her government could face challenges in the first half of 2017 because of possible changes to US global policies under the administration of ­Donald Trump.

“Uncertainties over the international situation are tipped to loom in the first half of 2017 and [we] must focus on [finding ways] to tackle such a situation,” Tsai of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party said. The coming months would be a test for the national security team and the ability of her government to manage a crisis, she said.

Beijing was angered by Tsai’s phone conversation with Trump last month, the first known time a US leader or president-elect has spoken directly with the island’s top politician. The mainland viewed the discussion as a violation of Washington’s commitment to the one-China policy.

Referring to cross-strait ties, Tsai said most Taiwanese felt “a rational and calm position strenuously kept by both sides has been slightly changed”.

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“Step by step, mainland China has backed onto an old track to polarise, pressure and even threaten and intimidate [Taiwan],” she said, adding she hoped it was “not Beijing’s [new] policy towards Taiwan”.

Amid the growing tensions, the People’s Liberation Army has stepped up air and sea drills near the island, while Taipei’s global presence has come under pressure – it recently lost Sao Tome and Principe as a diplomatic ally to Beijing.

In an appeal for the public to remain calm, Tsai said her government “will work to maintain peace and stability,” adding the island was more than strong enough to deal with challenges.

Tsai kicks off a visit of four allies in Central America this coming Saturday. She will stop in Houston on her way to Honduras, and in San Francisco on January 13 on her way back. She has said she would not meet members of Trump’s team.

“No one knows for sure what sort of cross-strait policies Trump will adopt after he assumes office, and this explains why the Tsai government would want to find clues to prepare for the uncertainties,” said Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

“The Tsai government would have channels to deal with Trump’s team in order to better understand his possible policies, and therefore there is no need for Tsai to do this personally.”

Tseng Fu-sheng, an adviser of Taiwan’s National Policy Foundation, said Tsai must ensure the island did not become Trump’s pawn in his dealing with Beijing.

“Recent comments by Trump, including whether the US should adhere to the one-China policy, have already impacted the stability in the Taiwan Strait, and unnerved the region over potential cross-strait conflict,” he said.

Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said Tsai had to cautiously handle cross-strait relations, especially as the Communist Party heads into a major congress next year.

“If there is no improvement in cross-strait ties by then, Beijing might take an even tougher stance against Taiwan, including more military intimidation and other radical measures,” he said.