China dismisses call by Taiwan leader for 'meaningful talks'

Tsai's remarks come against backdrop of mounting pressure on island by Beijing

Taiwanese out in force for their National Day celebration yesterday, which commemorates the start of the Wuchang Uprising on Oct 10, 1911, which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and imperial rule in China. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
President Tsai Ing-wen flanked by Legislative Speaker Yu Shyi-kun (left) and Vice-President William Lai waving to the crowd at yesterday's celebrations. China regards self-ruling Taiwan as its territory, and has never renounced the use of force to return it to its fold. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday called for "meaningful talks" with China and appealed for the de-escalation of military tensions, but the overture was swiftly rebuffed by Beijing.

Ms Tsai's remarks came amid mounting pressure on the island by the mainland, with the Chinese air force ramping up activity around the Taiwan Strait.

China regards self-ruling Taiwan as its territory, and has never renounced the use of force to return it to its fold.

"As long as the Beijing authorities are willing to resolve antagonisms and improve cross-strait relations, while parity and dignity are maintained, we are willing to work together to facilitate meaningful dialogue," Ms Tsai said during the island's Oct 10 National Day celebrations.

Calling on China to never seek hegemony, Ms Tsai referred to a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the United Nations General Assembly last month. "As countries in the region and around the world are now concerned about China's expanding hegemony, we hope this is the beginning of genuine change," she said.

"At this critical time... if Beijing can heed Taiwan's voice, change the way it handles cross-strait relations, and jointly facilitate cross-strait reconciliation and peaceful dialogue, I believe that regional tension can surely be resolved."

But the speech - which also referred to Taiwan's successful handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, its economic recovery and trade ties with the US - was met with an icy reception in Beijing.

The spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Ms Zhu Fenglian, said in a statement that the speech perpetuated confrontation and a sense of hostility.

"The fundamental reason for the tension in cross-strait relations is that the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) authorities... interfere with and obstruct cross-strait exchanges and cooperation, promote a series of 'independence' actions, and link up with external forces for provocations," said Ms Zhu, in an oblique reference to the US.

"Seeking 'Taiwan independence' will lead to a dead end... Return to the right track of the political foundation of the '92 Consensus', and the two sides can restart dialogue and consultation," she said.

Ms Tsai's pro-independence DPP rejects the 1992 consensus, which contains the "one China, different interpretations" principle.

While Washington and Taipei do not have official diplomatic ties, the United States remains one of Taiwan's most important strategic partners. This has also been a sore point with Beijing as Sino-US relations deteriorate.

Cross-strait tensions have risen in recent years, but concerns have mounted lately, with heightened military activity in the area and the visit of two high-level American officials to Taiwan. Chinese jets have repeatedly buzzed close to the island, including over the sensitive median line that serves as Taiwan's buffer zone.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said Chinese jets on Friday entered the island's air defence zone for the seventh time this month, and for the fourth consecutive day last week.

Ms Tsai yesterday pledged that Taiwan would work to lower the risk of military conflict, while also highlighting the preparedness of the Taiwanese military.

"In order to avoid potential conflicts due to miscalculations or accidents, we will address threats to regional peace and stability by upholding our principle of neither fearing nor seeking war," she said.

"We are committed to upholding cross-strait stability, but this is not something Taiwan can shoulder alone; it is the joint responsibility of both sides," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2020, with the headline China dismisses call by Taiwan leader for 'meaningful talks'. Subscribe