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Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan will not ‘bow to pressure from the mainland’ but seeks to maintain peace

President takes conciliatory tone in National Day speech ahead of Communist Party congress, saying she will maintain commitment to cross-strait status quo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 5:54pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the old path of confrontation was over and vowed to maintain her commitment to the cross-strait status quo in a carefully worded National Day address on Tuesday that avoided provoking Beijing ahead of its party congress next week.

Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), also reiterated her message of a year ago that “we will not change our goodwill, our commitments, nor will we revert to the old path of confrontation”.

But she again said the island would not bow to pressure from the mainland, referring to Beijing’s suspension of cross-strait talks and exchanges, and luring away two of its allies – Sao Tome and Principe, and Panama – to force her to accept the “1992 consensus” and its “one China” principle.

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Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province subject to eventual union, by force if necessary, has insisted that Tsai – who took power from the Kuomintang to become the island’s president in May last year – accept the consensus, which it sees as the political foundation for cross-strait relations.

The consensus is an understanding reached in 1992 to allow the two sides to continue talks as long as they agree that there is only one China, though each can have its own meaning of what that stands for. Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the consensus has been a sticking point since she took office.

On the island’s defence, Tsai said Taiwan needed a new generation military with a focus on quality, not quantity that was well prepared for growing threats in cybersecurity and espionage. She added that it also needed to build up its defence industry, including locally developed jets and submarines.

But she stressed that Taiwan was not seeking conflict. “We remain committed to maintaining peace and stability both in the Taiwan Strait and across the region,” she said.

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Tsai also acknowledged in the speech that cross-strait relations affected Taiwan’s future and the long-term welfare of its 23 million people.

“Since May 20 last year, we have exerted maximum goodwill in order to safeguard the peaceful and stable development of cross-strait ties,” she said, adding that although political differences between the two sides had led to difficulties, “we have nevertheless worked to maintain the basic stability of cross-strait relations”.

Noting that this year marked the 30th anniversary of cross-strait exchanges, she called for the two sides to set aside their political differences and take a pragmatic and realistic approach.

“Leaders from both sides should together display the political wisdom that has carried us through over the years. We should search for new modes of cross-strait interactions with determination and patience,” she said.

On foreign relations, she said the island’s policy to engage Southeast Asian nations was a way for Taiwan to “hold a more advantageous position in international society”.

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DPP legislator Kuan Bi-ling noted the conciliatory tone in Tsai’s speech ahead of the party congress, at which President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his grip on power.

“Instead of addressing Beijing as China or mainland China, President Tsai simply identified Beijing as the mainland, showing she is taking a softer approach in dealing with Beijing,” Kuan said, referring to the DPP’s tradition of referring to Beijing as China – giving it and Taiwan “national status”.

But Liu Guoshen, director of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, in the mainland’s eastern Fujian province, said Tsai did not offer anything new in her speech and it was unlikely to be perceived as conciliatory by Beijing.

“Without addressing the issue of whether the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one country or not, how is it possible for the leaders to sit down and talk? Not to mention discussing a new model for cross-strait interactions,” Liu said, adding that he expected Beijing to take a tougher stance on Taiwan after the party congress.