China can't make Taiwan bow to pressure: President Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking at a seminar in Taipei on Sept 22, 2016.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking at a seminar in Taipei on Sept 22, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

TAIPEI - Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Taiwan will not cave in to pressure China has ratcheted up on the island, amid a downturn in the island's tourism industry and its exclusion from major international exchanges.

"I also hope that mainland China does not misinterpret or misjudge the current situation, or think that it can make Taiwanese bow to pressure. In a democratic society, this kind of pressure is felt by all," Ms Tsai said in the interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday (Oct 4), a week ahead of Taiwan's Double Ten Day.

"No administration in Taiwan is able to make any decision that goes against the opinion of the people."

Ms Tsai won elections on a landslide in January and took power in May. Her party favours independence from China.

In her inauguration speech in May, she did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus - a tacit agreement between the two sides that there is one China - which Beijing has set as the bottom line for continuing cross-strait exchanges.

This angered Beijing, which has cut official contact and exchanges with Taipei, exerted pressure on international organisations to exclude Taiwan, and reportedly also restricted the flow of Taiwan-bound Chinese tourists.

The latter has led to a sharp decline in tourism arrivals to Taiwan and affected the livelihood of the island's tourism workers. Some 10,000 workers in the tourism sector took their grievances to the streets on Sept 12 to demand more government assistance, including measures to revive tourist numbers from mainland China.

But Ms Tsai, in the interview with Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, recommitted to plans to reduce Taiwan's economic dependence on China, saying the economies compete more than complement each other.

She expected relations with the US, who is Taiwan's most important ally, to remain firm no matter whether it is Mr Donald Trump or Mrs Hillary Clinton who wins next month's presidential election.

On relations with China, Ms Tsai said both sides should recall her inaugural address in May when she committed to "maximum flexibility" by maintaining the status quo and respecting the prior administration's understandings with Beijing.

"The pledges we have made in the past remain unchanged. Our goodwill is unchanged. But we will not succumb to pressure from China," Ms. Tsai said. She said, "We won't revert to the old path of conflict and confrontation."

Ms Tsai has refused to use the phrasing "1992 consensus" that Beijing prefers and declined to adopt it in the interview.

She said she's open to meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, but without conditions.

"It has been a longstanding practice of China to set political preconditions before any meaningful dialogue can be held. I think this is obstructive to the development of our relationship," she said.