Taiwan wants dialogue with China but cannot accept its proposal for “one country, two systems”, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, calling for both sides to find a way to coexist but drawing swift condemnation from China.
In a speech after being sworn in for her second and final term in office, Tsai said relations between Taiwan and China had reached a historical turning point.
“Both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences,” she said.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won January’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide, saying they would stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its objective.
“Here, 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. We stand fast by this principle,” Tsai said.
China uses the “one country, two systems” policy, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered the same framework to Taiwan, but all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.
Tsai says Taiwan is an independent state called the Republic of China, its official name, and does not want to be part of the People’s Republic of China.
In response, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said China would stick to ‘one country, two systems’ and “not leave any space for Taiwan independence separatist activities”. It added that reunification was an “historical inevitability”.
The Global Times tabloid, meanwhile, quoted a Chinese spokesperson saying that Tsai’s party “gangs up with foreign powers to hinder peace of Taiwan Straits and use (the) pandemic to attain separatist goals.”
Taiwan was “severely damaging” the peace and stability of the region, it added.
China has stepped up its military drills near Taiwan since Tsai’s re-election, flying fighter jets into the island’s air space and sailing warships around Taiwan.
Tsai said Taiwan has made the greatest effort to maintain peace and stability in the narrow Taiwan Strait that separates the democratic island from China.
“We will continue these efforts, and we are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security,” she added, speaking in the garden of the former Japanese governor’s house in Taipei, in front of a socially distanced audience of officials and diplomats.
Tsai said that Taiwan will continue its fight to participate in international organisations, and “bolster ties with the United States, Japan, Europe, and other like-minded countries”.
Taiwan has accused China of exerting pressure to keep Taiwan out of the World Health Organization (WHO). China says Taiwan is only a Chinese province with no right to the trappings of a state.
The Trump administration has strongly backed Taiwan, even though the United States recognises only China’s government, becoming another source of tension between Washington and Beijing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent his congratulations to Tsai on Tuesday, praising her “courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy”, in a rare high-level message from Washington direct to Taiwan’s government.
Joe Biden, who is challenging Trump for the US presidency in November also posted a message on Twitter.
“Taiwan’s thriving democracy and response to COVID-19 are an example to the world,” he wrote. “America’s support for Taiwan must remain strong, principled and bipartisan.”
China cut off a formal talks mechanism with Taiwan in 2016 after Tsai won her first term. China views Tsai as a separatist bent on formal independence for Taiwan.
There was no immediate reaction from Beijing to Tsai’s speech.