Taiwan leader signals firm line on China


TAIPEI • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (picture) warned against continued threats from China, signalling a hard line despite her recent election losses to the island’s more Beijing-friendly party.

“The election result doesn’t mean the Taiwanese people want to abandon sovereignty, nor does it mean the Taiwanese people will give up Taiwan’s autonomy,” Tsai said yesterday in a New Year’s Day address. “We are facing national safety threats and risks, particularly from China.”

The speech was Tsai’s first major address since her party — the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — suffered a resounding defeat to the Kuomintang (KMT) in local elections in November. China, which views Taiwan as a province, cut off communications with the island after the DPP swept the KMT from power in 2016 and upended rapprochement talks between the two sides.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was slated to deliver his own remarks on Taiwan today. The speech was intended to mark the 40th anniversary of a landmark Beijing overture to Taipei after the US and China established relations.

The scale of the DPP’s electoral defeat on Nov 24 was far greater than forecast, with the party losing seven cities and counties of the 13 the party had held. Tsai has just over a year to win back public support before presidential elections in January 2020.

Tsai touted new measures to entice Taiwanese companies to return from the mainland, a counteroffensive against Chinese efforts to attract the island’s investors. The incentives, which took effect yesterday and will last three years, include two years of free rent in industrial zones developed by Taiwan’s Economic Ministry, supplies of basic utilities and low interest rates.

“Cross-strait interactions need to be healthy and normal,” Tsai said. “These interactions can’t be based on vague political preconditions, or forced passwords. We are not against normal interactions between Taiwan and China.”

Taiwan will establish three “safety nets” to safeguard local livelihoods, information technology and communications — including preventing “fake news” — and democracy, Tsai said.

The KMT — the party that lost the Chinese Civil War against the Communists 70 years ago — supports stronger ties and eventual unification with the mainland. The Chinese authorities would welcome its return to power, since Tsai continues to refuse its negotiating framework that both sides belong to “one China”.

The US-China trade war would also impact Taiwan’s industrial development and financial stability, she said.

Tensions over the island have increased amid the trade spat, with Trump administration moves to support Taiwan — including sending warships through the Taiwan Strait, and approving legislation to allow high-level diplomatic visits to Taipei — drawing China’s ire.