Taiwan 'willing to befriend any sincere country'

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen departing Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan yesterday on her first trip abroad since taking office last month. She will visit Panama and Paraguay.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen departing Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan yesterday on her first trip abroad since taking office last month. She will visit Panama and Paraguay.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Faced with few diplomatic allies, it will be pragmatic, says President Tsai

Faced with a shrinking circle of diplomatic allies, President Tsai Ing- wen has said that Taiwan will not limit its friendship to just countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with the island.

Instead, it will engage in "pragmatic diplomacy" and befriend any country that is sincere and shares its values, Ms Tsai said yesterday, before she embarked on her first overseas trip since taking office last month.

Her nine-day trip to Panama and Paraguay, two of Taiwan's 22 remaining diplomatic allies, comes amid speculation that Panama may be the next diplomatic ally to cut ties with Taiwan and switch allegiance to China.

And even before she flew off, her government was already facing another test - the first industrial action by cabin crew in Taiwan's aviation history.

Hundreds of China Airlines flight attendants went on a strike yesterday over changes in work conditions, forcing Taiwan's largest carrier to ground most of its flights, affecting some 20,000 passengers.

Before boarding her plane - a China Airlines chartered flight unaffected by the strike - Ms Tsai told the media her government's diplomacy will not be "ambitious".

CONNECTING WITH THE WORLD

Although Taiwan faces limitations in foreign diplomacy, there are no limitations to our determination to connect with the world. ''

TAIWANESE PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN, as she was leaving on her maiden overseas trip as Taiwan's new leader.

"As long as it is mutually beneficial, we will do it," she said, listing three goals for her trip. She wants to raise Taiwan's international visibility, instil confidence in overseas Taiwanese to improve the island's foreign relations and boost trade links with Latin America.

"Although Taiwan faces limitations in foreign diplomacy, there are no limitations to our determination to connect with the world," said Ms Tsai, who at her inauguration vowed to raise Taiwan's standing as a "valuable contributor" to the world community.

Ms Tsai will attend the formal opening of the expanded Panama Canal, an event to which Beijing is expected to send a representative.

She is also scheduled to stop over in Miami and Los Angeles, and is expected to meet United States Vice-President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, in Los Angeles.

China, suspicious of Ms Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party - they won the presidential and legislative polls in January - has been tightening the diplomatic noose around Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province. Beijing resumed ties with Gambia in March, after refraining from doing so following the African state's severance of ties with Taiwan in 2013.

Tamkang University political analyst Chen I-hsin said China has the upper hand in the diplomatic game and that Ms Tsai's failure to recognise the 1992 Consensus - that there is one China, with Beijing and Taipei having different interpretations of what it means - does not help things. China views Ms Tsai's acceptance of the Consensus as crucial to stable cross-strait ties.

"This trip will be a good opportunity for Ms Tsai to say something... about the 1992 Consensus. If she continues to keep silent, it will be a matter of time before Beijing puts pressure on Taiwan's allies to cut off ties with it," said Prof Chen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan 'willing to befriend any sincere country''. Print Edition | Subscribe