Taipei frets ahead of Trump talks with Beijing

It fears being used as 'chess piece' amid hopes of new US arms deal

TAIPEI • Taiwan's government, worried about being used as a pawn by China and the United States, has said that the self-ruled island must protect its own interests as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting of US and Chinese leaders.

"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, told reporters yesterday.

Ms Chang 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 arms package for Taiwan - a move sure to anger China.

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

SEEKING THE UPPER HAND

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.

MR PENG SHENG-CHU, chief of Taiwan's National Security Bureau.

The US is Taiwan's only major political ally and its sole arms supplier, and weapons sales to Taiwan have repeatedly upset Beijing.

Taiwan is seeking a new arms package from the Trump administration, in response to China's increased military posturing around its waters.

Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan confirmed for the first time yesterday that China was targeting Taiwan with Dongfeng-16 medium-range precision strike missiles, in a move that "increases its intimidation of Taiwan".

The missiles have a range of 1,600km and are difficult to intercept with the Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile systems defending Taiwan, owing to the Dongfeng-16's increased range and speed.

Media reports last week indicated that the US may be prepared to sell Taiwan advanced rocket systems, anti-ship missiles and other equipment to help the island defend itself.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that 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 US should handle the Taiwan issue cautiously.

There is contact between Taiwan and the Trump administration on the arms sale issue, but a specific request list has not been drawn up for this year, though there are pending requests from last year, Defence Ministry official Wu Pao-kun told lawmakers.

"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.

In December, Taiwan 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 Washington's four-decade-old "one China" policy.

Mr Trump changed tack last month, however, and agreed to honour the policy during a phone call with Mr Xi.

REUTERS, CHINA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Taipei frets ahead of Trump talks with Beijing'. Print Edition | Subscribe