(CNSNews.com) – In comments guaranteed to further infuriate Beijing, Taiwan’s newly-reelected President Tsai Ing-Wen told the BBC this week that the island democracy is already independent, and has no need formally to declare itself as such.
“We don’t have a need to declare ourselves an independent state,” Tsai said. “We are an independent country already, and we call ourselves the Republic of China/Taiwan.”
Tsai noted that Taiwan has its own government, military, and elections, and said it was time China faced “reality.”
Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to a second-term victory at the weekend, taking 57 percent of the vote, while her main rival, Han Kuo-yu of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang party (KMT), received 38 percent.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Taiwan’s first female president, who just eight months ago was lagging behind her KMT opponent by double digits. Tsai attributed the scale of her victory to China’s increasing military threats, and Beijing’s dealing with pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
“Over the last three – more than three years, we’ve seen that China has been intensifying its threat,” she said, citing China’s military exercises and deployment of warplanes and ships around the island.
“And also, with the things happening in Hong Kong, people get a real sense that this threat is real, and it’s getting more and more serious.”
(The protests in Hong Kong have underlined residents’ concerns that the “one country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony returned to Chinese rule is being undermined. Beijing had promised Hong Kong would enjoy limited autonomy under a capitalist system for at least 50 years, but many freedoms have been eroded.
China views Taiwan as a rebel province that must be reincorporated into “one China” – by force if necessary. The DPP rejects the idea of rejoining China under the “one country, two systems” principle.)
Tsai said the people of Taiwan “don’t like the idea of being threatened all the time.”
“We’re a successful democracy, we have a pretty decent economy. You know, we deserve respect from China.”
Asked by the BBC’s John Sudworth what she could offer the mainland that might open the door to dialogue, Tsai replied, “I think it’s for the Chinese to have this preparedness to face reality. That is the key. If they are not prepared to face reality, whatever we offer won’t be satisfying to them.”
To the charge that her policies were provoking China, she said that despite domestic pressures to “go further,” her government had on the contrary for more than three years “been telling China that maintaining [the] status quo remains our policy.”
“Are you, in principle at least, in favor of the idea of formal Taiwanese independence?” Sudworth asked.
“We don’t have a need to declare ourselves an independent state,” Tsai said. “We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China / Taiwan. And we do have [a] government, we have the military, and we have elections.”
Reunification by force
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang referred queries on Tsai’s remarks to the department in the Chinese cabinet that deals with Taiwan, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.
“What I can tell you is that there is but one China in the world,” Geng said. “The People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China. Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory. And the ‘one-China’ principle is the universal consensus of the international community.”
A spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office warned that the DPP is provoking growing sentiment on the mainland for the island to be reincorporated into China by the use of military force.
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reported that the spokesman, Ma Xiaoguang, said the DPP and “secessionist forces” in Taiwan should reflect on why mainland voices calling for a military solution have grown louder in recent years.
The cross-strait dispute has its origins in the civil war between Mao Zedong’s communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist KMT, whose remnants retreated in late 1949 to the island of Formosa (Taiwan).
Only a small handful of countries, now down to just 15, have full diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and Beijing refuses to have diplomatic relations with those that do. Using economic assistance as an incentive, China works to lure those allies away, most recently, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati last year.
In 1979 the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter cut ties with Taiwan and recognized Beijing. Congress the same year passed the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the U.S. to protect the island from unprovoked aggression, and to provide it with military aid.
A statement issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the weekend congratulated Tsai, and praised Taiwan “for once again demonstrating the strength of its robust democratic system, which – coupled with a free market economy and a vibrant civil society – makes it a model for the Indo-Pacific region and a force for good in the world.”
“The American people and the people on Taiwan are not just partners – we are members of the same community of democracies, bonded by our shared political, economic, and international values,” Pompeo added.
China did not take kindly to expressions of support from the U.S. and other countries that do not have full diplomatic ties with Taiwan, such as Japan and Britain.
“The election in the Taiwan region is a sub-national affair in China,” Geng of the foreign ministry said on Sunday. “We deplore and firmly oppose those countries’ violation of the one-China principle by taking such a move, and we have lodged solemn representations.”
He said China hoped that such countries would “refrain from having any official ties or exchanges with the Taiwan region” and “avoid sending any wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces.”