Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen says phone call with Donald Trump can take place again

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says she looks forward to a more open dialogue with the US. VIDEO: REUTERS
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on April 27, 2017.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on April 27, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said another direct phone call with United States President Donald Trump could take place again and she urged the self-ruled island’s political rival China to step up to its global responsibility to keep the peace as a large nation.

“We have the opportunity to communicate more directly with the US government,” Tsai told Reuters in an exclusive interview on Thursday (April 27). “We don’t exclude the opportunity to call President Trump himself, but it depends on the needs of the situation and the US government’s consideration of regional affairs.” 

The interview was the first since Trump, as US President-elect, took a congratulatory phone call from Tsai in early December.

It was the first contact between a leader of Taiwan and an incumbent or incoming US president in nearly four decades and Trump cast doubt on Washington’s long-standing policy of acknowledging Beijing’s “one China” policy, which claims Taiwan is a part of China.

The call angered Beijing because it forbids contact between government heads and Taiwan’s leader, for fear of such contacts would confer sovereignty on the island. Democratic Taiwan, self-ruled since 1949, has no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.

However, Trump agreed to honour the “one China” policy in February and then hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort earlier this month.

F-35 REQUEST 

Despite this, Tsai said Taiwan’s ties with the US have been improving. She said Taiwan may need to buy from its sole arms supplier the most advanced stealth jet in the US arsenal. 

“We don’t rule out any items that would be meaningful to our defence and our defence strategy and the F-35 is one such item,”said Tsai, in the first remarks by a top Taiwanese official on the matter.

Taiwan will eventually have to submit a weapons purchase list during talks with Washington. Tsai said, however, senior officials were not yet in place in the Trump administration to handle the issue.

China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday it was resolutely opposed to any country selling arms to Taiwan.

Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun made the comment at a monthly news briefing in Beijing when asked about the possible sale of F-35 fighter jets from the US to Taiwan.

Speaking from the Presidential Office as she nears her first year anniversary in office, Tsai urged Xi to act like a leader.

Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control, and froze official communication channels with Taipei soon after Tsai and her independence-leaning party took power.

Tsai has said she wants to maintain peace with China, but that her government won’t bow to pressure from China.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION MEETING 

China continues to pressure Taiwan, Tsai said, adding that the upcoming May meeting of the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) would be an important benchmark for relations between the two sides.

Taiwan has said it is facing a more complicated task this year in securing an invitation for the meeting after Beijing last year warned that acceptance of the “one China” principle was a condition for Taiwan’s attendance.

Most major nations and multilateral organisations, like the WHO which falls under the United Nations, formally recognise China.

When she first took office, China slammed Tsai’s inaugural speech as offering an “incomplete answer” to what it called the exam on bilateral relations.
Tsai said: “Why not say we both are facing a new exam. We also look forward to China using a different perspective to face this new exam.” 

“China now needs to have its own sense of responsibility,”Tsai said, adding that the world was changing and China must change too. “I hope Chairman Xi Jinping, as a leader of a large country and who sees himself as a leader, can show a pattern and flexibility, use a different angle to look at cross-Strait relations, and allow the future of cross-Strait ties to have a different kind of pattern.” 

Recalling her historic call with Trump, Tsai talked about more possibilities. “My first feeling was that this is a new (Trump) government and perhaps under this new government there will be many different possibilities that appear,” Tsai said.

Tsai tweeted congratulations to Trump minutes after he took office in January, and when asked if she might tweet him again, Tsai said: “Might not be a bad idea. I’ll give some thought to it.”