'Don't use Taiwan' as a pawn, says Taipei ahead of Trump and Xi meeting

Taiwan's government said the island must protect its own interests, as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting between Xi Jinping (left) and Donald Trump.
Taiwan's government said the island must protect its own interests, as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting between Xi Jinping (left) and Donald Trump.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan's government, worried about being used as a pawn by China and the United States, said on Monday (March 20) the island must protect its own interests, as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting between US and Chinese leaders.

China has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province and has been pressuring Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads an independence-leaning ruling party, to concede Taiwan is a part of China.

The US is Taiwan's major political ally and sole arms supplier.

"We call on the United States and China, when they improve relations, to not use Taiwan in their own interest or as a chess piece," Ms Catherine Chang, Taiwan's minister in charge of China affairs, the Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters.

She urged Beijing to communicate with Taipei "in order to maintain stability and peace in the Asia Pacific region".

The comments come after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday in Beijing that US President Donald Trump anticipates a meeting "soon".

At issue for Taipei is whether a Trump-Xi meeting will harm Taipei's interests as Washington begins considering a big, new arms package for Taiwan, a move sure to anger China.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China’s resolute opposition to US arms sales to Taiwan was clear and consistent. “We hope the US  fully recognises the high sensitivity and serious harmfulness of US arms sales to Taiwan,” she told a daily news briefing, adding that the United States should handle the Taiwan issue cautiously.

"We should seek the greatest advantage in the interaction between the United States and China, to reduce the possibility of Communist China guiding and manipulating the US-China-Taiwan relationship," said Mr Peng Sheng-chu, chief of Taiwan's National Security Bureau.

Mr Peng, who was answering questions at a parliamentary session, did not elaborate on what steps Taiwan should take, but said that based on the bureau's current intelligence, it was not likely that a new communique that could hurt Taiwan's interests would result from a Trump-Xi meeting.

"But we do not rule out the possibility," he added.

In December, Taiwan had celebrated a diplomatic coup when Mr Trump, as president-elect, took a congratulatory phone call from Ms Tsai and raised questions about whether he would stick with the four-decade-old "One China" policy.

Mr Trump changed tack last month and agreed to honour the "One China" policy during a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi.

Mr Tillerson left China with warm words from Mr Xi on the weekend, ending his first trip to Asia since taking office with an agreement to work together with China on North Korea and putting aside trickier issues.

Mr Xi praised increasing communications in recent weeks between Beijing and Washington, and said he is "confident" of seeing bilateral relations moving in the "right direction". Taiwan was discussed during the meeting, but details were not provided.