Taiwan Urges China To Ease Tensions

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (C) speaks during the National Day celebrations in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei on 10 October, 2020. (AFP Photo)

Taiwan's leader on Saturday appealed to her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to deescalate military tensions and live up to his promise to "never seek hegemony" after months of Beijing ramping up fighter jet incursions.

In a speech on Taiwan's national day, President Tsai Ing-wen said the international community was becoming concerned about the "expanding hegemony" of China. 

Beijing views democratic, self-ruling Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it back into its fold.

But Tsai referenced a recent speech by Xi to the United Nations (UN) that she said gave the Taiwanese some hope.

"I am also aware that the leader across the Strait (Xi) has publicly stated in a video message to the United Nations General Assembly that China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence ... we hope this is the beginning of genuine change." 

"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 added,

Beijing's bellicose stance towards Taiwan has increased dramatically under Xi, who has described the island's unification with the mainland as "inevitable".

It is also a response to the election of Tsai in 2016 and again earlier this year. Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), views Taiwan as a sovereign country and rejects the idea that the island is part of "one China". 

Evil Fruits

Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) accused Tsai of "extending confrontational thinking and antagonism to promote independence" in her speech, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"We urge the DPP authority to stop any provocative word and action promoting independence and not to go further down the wrong road," Xinhua quoted TAO spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian as saying.

The DPP would "only swallow its own evil fruits to collude with Western countries," Zhu warned.

Washington's increased outreach to Taipei under President Donald Trump has become yet another flashpoint with Beijing as United States (US)-China relations plunge to historic lows.

China's military has piled on pressure even more than usual this year, sending its warplanes into Taiwan's air defence zone at unprecedented frequency and sometimes also crossing the so-called "median line" of the Taiwan Strait.

It conducted exercises near the Taiwan Strait when a senior American diplomat was visiting the island last month, shortly after health chief Alex Azar made the highest-level US visit to Taipei since 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

A Chinese foreign ministry official has even said there was no such thing as the median line as "Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory", sparking condemnations from Taipei. 

On Saturday, Chinese jets entered Taiwan's air defence zone for the eighth time this month and the fifth straight day this week, according to Taipei's defence ministry.

Tsai pledged that Taiwan "will not act rashly" and will work to lower the risk of military conflict.

"As long as the Beijing authorities are willing to resolve antagonisms and improve cross-strait relations... we are willing to work together to facilitate meaningful dialogue," she said. – AFP