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China-US relations

US denies change to ‘one China’ policy after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s speech in California

Beijing says it lodged an official protest with Washington over Tsai’s speech in Los Angeles, where she said Taiwan’s freedom was not negotiable

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018, 7:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018, 4:07pm

US President Donald Trump’s administration denied Tuesday any change to its “one China” policy after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen made a political speech in the United States, the first time in 15 years a Taiwanese leader has done so.

Beijing said it had lodged an official protest with the US over Tsai’s speech in Los Angeles on Monday, when she said Taiwan’s freedom and future was not negotiable.

Tsai spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library while in transit on a trip to Paraguay and Belize, two of the few countries that continue to recognise the government in Taipei.

High-profile welcome for Taiwanese president in the United States

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the speech did not represent any move by the Trump administration to alter the official US stance that accepted Beijing as the sole government of China, and did not officially recognise Taiwan’s government.

“Our policy on Taiwan has not changed,” she said.

“The United States in regard to this trip facilitates from time to time representatives of the Taiwan authorities to transit the United States.

“Those are largely undertaken out of consideration for the safety and the comfort of those travellers, and that is in keeping with our One China policy.”

Yet previous US administrations have prevented Taiwanese leaders from making speeches in the United States that would implicitly elevate their diplomatic status and irk Beijing.

Tsai’s transit in Los Angeles was the most high-profile since former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian’s 2003 stopover in New York, where he accepted a human rights award and delivered several public speeches.

Tsai, a firm defender of Taiwan’s independence, said in the speech on Monday that “we will keep our pledge that we are willing to jointly promote regional stability and peace under the principles of national interests, freedom and democracy”.

Tsai praised Ronald Reagan for his contribution to Taiwan-US relations, including a commitment not to pressure Taipei to negotiate with Beijing.

“Everything was negotiable except two things: our freedom and our future,” she quoted from Reagan’s remarks in her talk, adding that this is also the sentiment of Taiwanese people.

When asked to comment on Tsai’s US transit, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Tuesday reiterated its opposition to any attempt to promote Taiwanese independence.

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. We firmly oppose any attempt to create ‘two Chinas’, ‘one China, one Taiwan’ and ‘Taiwan independence’ in the international arena,” it said in a statement.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it had lodged an official protest with the United States as it recalled that it had always “firmly opposed” the US or other countries with diplomatic relations with China arranging such transits.

The ministry urged Washington to “scrupulously abide by the one China principle” and “not send any wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”.

Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times accused the US and Taiwan of “shady dealings”, warning that the mainland was capable of giving the Taiwanese authorities “a drastic punishment”.

Tsai’s trip to Paraguay comes as Taiwan seeks to firm up ties with its dwindling band of diplomatic allies, whose number fell to 18 after Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic switched recognition to Beijing in May.

Tsai’s stopover came amid a rise in tensions between Beijing and Taipei that has raised concerns in Washington.

In April the Chinese military held live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait in what was widely seen as a move to intimidate Taipei.

In Singapore in June, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis warned Beijing not to alter the security status quo in the region.

Last month, Beijing forced several international airlines, including US carriers, to begin listing Taiwan as a part of China in advertising their services.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, but it remains the island’s biggest arms supplier and most important unofficial ally.

Ties have continued to warm since Trump came to power, and were further bolstered by the passage this week of the National Defence Authorisation Act, which includes a commitment to support Taiwan militarily.