Warm, high-profile welcome for Taiwanese president in the United States
Tsai Ing-wen invokes late US leader Ronald Reagan in rebuff to military and diplomatic pressure from Beijing
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen underscored her administration’s focus on “freedom and democracy” during her two-day stopover in the United States, shrugging off mounting pressure from Beijing to return to its fold.
Addressing supporters and US officials at the Berlin Wall monument at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library just outside Los Angeles on Monday, Tsai quoted the late American president, saying: “Everything is negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future.”
Beijing sees Taiwan as a wayward province subject to eventual union, by force if necessary, and has ramped up pressure on Tsai to accept the “one China” principle, an understanding that there is only one China but each side has its own interpretation of what that means.
Beijing considers the understanding the foundation for any cross-strait talks but, unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, Tsai has resisted going down that path since she became president in May 2016.
As a result, Beijing has held a series military exercises near the island, wooed away four of Taipei’s allies, and pressured international airlines to not refer to the self-ruled island as a non-Chinese territory.
“Freedom and democracy are important values for Taiwan, and Taiwan abides by its commitment to promote regional stability under the principles of national interest, freedom, and democracy,” Tsai said in her address on Monday before leaving for Paraguay and Belize, two of Taipei’s 18 remaining allies. “This is what all Taiwanese people feel.”
During her two days in Los Angeles, the Taiwanese president was given an unprecedentedly high level of courtesy, according to Taiwanese media.
Apart from visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Tsai also toured the Cultural Centre of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and state institutes. In a break with the past, the media contingent travelling with her were also allowed to report on all of her activities, including her meetings with US congressmen and New Mexico governor Susana Martinez. Previously, aides or Taiwanese lawmakers travelling with the leader would brief the media after the event.
Taiwanese analysts said Tsai’s warm reception in the US included US President Donald Trump’s signing of the National Defence Authorisation Act, which opens the door to bigger arms deals and military exchanges with Taiwan.
Beijing protested against the signing of the act, saying it violated the one-China policy that Washington had agreed to.
Alexander Wang, a professor at the Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said Washington might offer an even higher level of courtesy next time Tsai visited as long as such “small progress” did not overly provoke Beijing.
“[Tsai] was probably given such courtesy because of the attitude of the US Congress in the past few years that Taiwan should not be treated unreasonably, and Beijing’s more recent persistent suppression of Taiwan,” Wang said.
He said it was not in line with American interests for Taiwan to bow to pressure from Beijing, given Washington’s desire for Taipei to stand with it to counter the Chinese mainland.