Taiwan President delivers rare public speech in US

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her stopover in Los Angeles, California, en route to Paraguay, on Aug 13, 2018. It was the first time in 15 years that a leader of the island has spoken publicly on American soil.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her stopover in Los Angeles, California, en route to Paraguay, on Aug 13, 2018. It was the first time in 15 years that a leader of the island has spoken publicly on American soil.PHOTO: AFP/CNA PHOTO

LOS ANGELES • Taiwan's President has given a speech in the United States - the first time in 15 years that a leader of the island has spoken publicly on American soil - in a move likely to anger Beijing.

During a stopover en route to Paraguay, Ms Tsai Ing-wen, whose government refuses to endorse Beijing's view that Taiwan is part of China, vowed to defend democratic values. "We will keep our pledge that we are willing to jointly promote regional stability and peace under the principles of national interests, freedom and democracy," she said on Monday.

China views Taiwan as part of its own territory - to be reunified by force if necessary - even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.

Beijing is always swift to condemn any move that could be interpreted as de facto diplomatic recognition of the government in Taipei, and it has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Ms Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, came to power in 2016.

Ms Tsai made her speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, whose namesake she praised for his contribution to Taiwan-US relations, including a commitment not to pressure Taipei to negotiate with Beijing.

Her transit in Los Angeles was the most high-profile since former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian's 2003 stopover in New York, where he accepted a human rights award and delivered several public speeches.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, but it remains the island's biggest arms supplier and most important unofficial ally.

Ties have warmed further since Mr Donald Trump came to power, and were further bolstered by the passage this week of the National Defence Authorisation Act, which includes a commitment to military support of Taiwan.

Last month, the US sent two warships into the Taiwan Strait. That followed a string of military drills staged by Beijing around the island.

Chinese state newspaper Global Times accused the US and Taiwan of "shady dealings", warning that the mainland was capable of giving the Taiwanese authorities "a drastic punishment".

Ms Tsai's trip to Paraguay comes as Taiwan seeks to firm up ties with its dwindling band of diplomatic allies, whose number fell to 18 after Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic switched recognition to Beijing in May.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver, who was visiting Malaysia, said the US is concerned about China's increasing pressure on Taiwan.

"It's clear the Chinese are increasing pressure on Taiwan in a variety of ways. Diplomatic isolation... they're putting economic pressure on Taiwan by cutting back tourists, they've been increasing the level and nature of the military activities around Taiwan. For example, flying bomber routes all the way around the island.

"So all this is very concerning. This is not consistent with a peaceful approach to the differences between the two sides. It's certainly not winning hearts and minds in Taiwan."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2018, with the headline 'Taiwan President delivers rare public speech in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe