US Sends Top-Level Diplomat To Taiwan, Angering China

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
File photo: US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

 

A top US diplomat will arrive in Taiwan on Thursday, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit in 40 years, in a further sign of Washington’s willingness to defy China and its campaign to isolate the self-ruled island.

Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, was heading to Taipei to attend a memorial service for late president Lee Teng-hui on Saturday, the US State Department said.

The trip, the second high-ranking US visit in as many months, sparked an immediate rebuke from China, which baulks at any recognition of Taiwan and has mounted a decades-long policy of marginalising the democratic island.

“China strongly opposes this,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday, saying the trip “encourages the arrogant attitude of Taiwan independence separatist forces”.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory, to be absorbed into the mainland — by force if necessary.

Relations between the United States and China are at their lowest point in decades, with the two sides clashing over a range of trade, military and security issues, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington’s increased outreach to Taiwan under US President Donald Trump has become yet another flashpoint between the two powers.

“The United States honours President Lee’s legacy by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement announcing Krach’s trip.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Krach, accompanied by assistant secretary Robert Destro, would also discuss “how to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation” during his three-day visit.

It described him as the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will host a dinner for the US delegation on Friday.

“We look forward to more exchanges and discussions between Taiwan and the US to solidify the foundation for further collaborations, including economic cooperation, through undersecretary Krach’s visit,” her office said in a statement.

– Ambassador meeting in New York –

Beijing discourages any official exchanges with Taiwan but in recent months Washington has dramatically increased its outreach.

Last month, US cabinet member and health chief Alex Azar visited to highlight Taiwan’s widely praised efforts to stop Covid-19.

 

File photo: US Health Secretary Alex Azar waves to the journalists as he arrives at Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020.  Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

On Thursday Taiwan’s foreign ministry also confirmed a rare meeting took place the day before between James Lee, its top official in New York, and Washington’s ambassador to the UN Kelly Clark.

Beijing has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of Tsai, who rejects its view that the island is part of “one China”.

In recent weeks, Taiwan has reported a sharp increase in incursions by Chinese jets into its air defence identification zone.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said two Chinese anti-submarine planes crossed the boundary a day earlier and were warned to leave.

Washington remains the leading arms supplier to the island but has historically been cautious in holding official contact with it.

Trump has embraced Taiwan more closely as a way to hit back at authoritarian Beijing, especially as he seeks re-election in November.

He has also approved some major arms sales, something his recent predecessors were more reluctant to do.

But the United States has so far not strayed from the unwritten red line on Taiwan, as it has not sent senior officials whose primary responsibilities are foreign affairs or defence.

Lee, who died in July at the age of 97, was a towering figure in Taiwan’s history, helping the once authoritarian island transition to a vibrant democracy and later angering China by pushing for it to be recognised as a sovereign country.

When news of his death broke, Chinese state media called him “the godfather of Taiwan secessionism”.

Krach, with his economic focus, will be visiting as Taiwan seeks a trade deal with the United States.

Taiwan removed a major hurdle last month by easing safety restrictions on US beef and pork — welcome news for farmers, a key constituency for Trump, as the election approaches.

AFP

Somaliland Launches Representative Office In Taiwan

Mohamed Hagi (R), Somaliland’s Taiwan representative, bumps elbows while posing with Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu during the opening ceremony of the Somaliland representative office in Taipei on September 9, 2020. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)

 

Somaliland opened a representative office in Taiwan Wednesday as the unrecognised but de facto sovereign territories deepen a relationship that has sparked angry rebukes from both China and Somalia.

Taiwan and Somaliland have grown closer in recent years, finding common ground in their peculiar and isolated international status.

Both are thriving self-run democracies that remain mostly unrecognised by the wider world.

“The bilateral accord between Somaliland and Taiwan is based on common values of freedom and democracy,” Somaliland representative Mohamed Hagi said at a ceremony in Taipei.

Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if needed. Only 15 countries diplomatically recognise Taiwan over Beijing, although many nations maintain embassy equivalent trade offices in Taipei.

Somaliland, meanwhile, declared independence from Somalia during the 1991 civil war and has thrived as a comparative beacon of stability. While some nations maintain informal ties with Hargeisa, Somaliland is not diplomatically recognised by any other nation.

Last month Taiwan opened an office in Somaliland.

Somalia described the move as a “reckless attempt” to infringe on its sovereignty, while Beijing accused Taipei of separatism and acting with “desperation”.

Hagi pushed back at that criticism on Wednesday.

“From Somaliland’s perspective we are independent,” he told reporters.

“We are happy to make relations with Taiwan and other countries, to build economic relations. There is not any threat to China.”

Taiwan has been engaged in a diplomatic tug-of-war with Beijing for decades in which each side tries to woo the other’s allies with financial and other incentives.

Since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing has poached seven allies as part of a wider campaign to isolate Taipei.

Beijing loathes Tsai because she regards Taiwan as “already independent” and not part of one China.

AFP

US Envoy Caps Taiwan Trip With Tribute To Late Democracy Leader

US Health Secretary Alex Azar waves to the journalists as he arrives at Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020. Azar, a senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration, landed in Taiwan on August 8, 2020 for Washington’s highest-level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned. Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

 

 

A US cabinet member visited a shrine to Taiwan’s late president Lee Teng-hui Wednesday, praising his role in steering the island’s transition to democracy, as he capped a historic trip to the island that has riled China.

Health chief Alex Azar is on a three-day visit to Taiwan that Washington has billed as its highest-level delegation since the US switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979.

His visit comes as US-China relations plunge to historic lows with the two powers clashing over a wide range of issues from trade to military and security issues, human rights and the coronavirus pandemic.

On the last day of his visit, Azar visited a shrine and wrote a message of condolence for Lee, who died last month aged 97.

“President Lee’s democratic legacy will forever propel the U.S.-Taiwan relationship forward,” Azar wrote.

Lee was a towering figure in Taiwan’s recent history.

He defied China by pushing for the island to be recognised as a sovereign nation and earned the nickname “Mr Democracy” for the part he played in its transition from authoritarian rule.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, loathed Lee. When news emerged of his death, Chinese state media called him “the godfather of Taiwan secessionism”.

Despite being self-ruled since 1949, Taiwan has never formally declared independence from the mainland and Beijing has vowed to react with force if it ever does.

 

US Health Secretary Alex Azar walks out of a plane as he arrives at the Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020. Azar, a senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration, landed in Taiwan on August 8, 2020 for Washington’s highest-level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned. Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

Both Washington and Taipei portrayed Azar’s trip as an opportunity to learn from the success of Taiwan’s battle against the coronavirus.

The island has fewer than 500 infections and just seven deaths, compared with more than 160,000 fatalities in the United States.

But the visit has also been an opportunity to ruffle Beijing’s feathers at a time when US President Donald Trump is taking an increasingly hard line against China as he seeks re-election in November.

“We will continue to support Taiwan as our friend and our partner across security, economic and healthcare issues,” Azar told reporters after a visit to a mask factory on Wednesday.

China takes umbrage at any formal recognition of Taiwan.

It called for Azar’s trip to be cancelled and Taiwan accused Beijing of sending fighter jets over a de facto border on Monday, the day the US health chief met President Tsai Ing-wen.

During his visit, Azar has repeatedly contrasted Taiwan’s open, democratic system with China’s authoritarian leadership.

In a speech on Tuesday, he suggested the coronavirus might have been stopped sooner had it emerged in a more transparent and democratic place, such as Taiwan, rather than China.

He also hit out at Beijing for keeping Taiwan locked out of the World Health Organization.

China has taken an increasingly hostile approach towards Taiwan since Tsai took office in 2016.

Despite the pressure campaign, she won a second term earlier this year with a landslide.

AFP

US Begins Highest Level Taiwan Visit Since 1979

US Health Secretary Alex Azar walks out of a plane as he arrives at the Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020. Azar, a senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration, landed in Taiwan on August 8, 2020 for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned. Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

 

A senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration landed in Taiwan Sunday for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned.

During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates Taiwan being recognised as a sovereign nation and is loathed by China’s leaders.

Tsai’s office said the meeting would take place Monday morning.

Azar is the most senior US cabinet member to visit Taiwan in decades and his visit comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economic powers plunge to historic lows.

In recent days, Trump has ordered sweeping restrictions on popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat and the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader over a tough law that curbs dissent.

 

US Health Secretary Alex Azar waves to the journalists as he arrives at Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020. Azar, a senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration, landed in Taiwan on August 8, 2020 for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned. Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

Washington has billed the Taiwan trip as an opportunity to learn from the island’s fight against the coronavirus and to celebrate its progressive values.

“This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a health and human services department official told reporters ahead of the visit.

But Beijing balks at any recognition of self-ruled Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory and vows to one day seize, by force if necessary.

It has described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability”, while China’s defence minister warned against Washington making any “dangerous moves”.

As well as meeting Tsai, Azar will hold talks with his counterpart Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

He will also meet coronavirus experts and give a speech to public health students as well as alumni of a training programme with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taiwan has become a poster child for defeating the coronavirus thanks to a well-honed track and tracing programme as well as firm border controls.

Despite its proximity and economic links to China it has recorded fewer than 500 infections and seven deaths.

In contrast the US has recorded the most deaths in the world with more than 160,000 fatalities.

– A cautious testing of China –

The rapidly deteriorating relationship between Beijing and Washington comes as Trump seeks re-election in November.

He is trailing in the polls to rival Joe Biden and has begun campaigning hard on an increasingly strident anti-Beijing message.

As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the epidemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.

The two countries have clashed on a range of issues, from trade to espionage allegations and Beijing’s human rights record such as the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims and the political crackdown in Hong Kong.

Washington remains the leading arms supplier to Taiwan but has historically been cautious in holding official contacts with it.

Under Trump, relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically and he has approved a number of major military sales, including F-16 fighter jets.

Douglas Paal, a former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy, said the Trump administration was still paying heed to China’s red line — that no US official handling national security visit Taiwan.

Throughout the 1990s the United States sent trade officials to Taiwan with regularity.

The difference this time, he said, is the context, with Azar travelling at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing have hit a new low.

“Sending him to Taiwan shows respect for the old framework while putting a finger in China’s eye at the same time,” Paal said.

“The fact that they didn’t choose to send a national security advisor or someone else suggests they are trying to come as close as possible to China’s red line but don’t want to cross it.”

The last cabinet minister to visit Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency led a delegation.

Taiwan has also built broad, bipartisan support in Washington.

Tsai has been hailed not only for her decisive coronavirus response but also, among US Democrats, for her progressive views including advocacy of gay rights, unusual for an Asian leader.

AFP

Taiwan Lawmakers Throw Punches, Water Balloons In Parliament Crisis

Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Lu Ming-che (L) fights with ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wu Ping-jui (C) as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020. Sam Yeh / AFP
Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Lu Ming-che (L) fights with ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wu Ping-jui (C) as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020. Sam Yeh / AFP

 

Taiwanese lawmakers threw punches and water balloons inside the legislature on Friday, the third parliamentary brawl in a fortnight, over the nomination of the head of a top government watchdog.

A legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was caught on camera punching an opposition party member during a vote on nominee Chen Chu.

Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers later threw water balloons at the speakers’ podium, forcing their DPP colleagues to don plastic raincoats and hold up cardboard shields.

The parliament in Taipei was once notorious for mass brawls, and has been the scene of frequent protests.

Scuffles broke out over reform policies and pension cuts when President Tsai Ing-wen first took office four years ago.

Such confrontations had since subsided, but in the last fortnight they have returned with abandon over the decision to nominate Chen, 70, to head the Control Yuan, an investigatory agency that monitors the other branches of government.

Legislators from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) scuffle as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020.
Legislators from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) scuffle as the KMT protest against Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s nomination of Chen Chu, former secretary general of the President Office, for the chairwoman of the Control Yuan, the country’s watchdog body of other branches of government, as scuffles broke out during voting at the parliament in Taipei on July 17, 2020.

 

The KMT is opposed to her appointment, which requires approval from the DPP-dominated parliament.

The party also claimed that 24 out of 27 people nominated for membership of the Control Yuan have close ties with the DPP in the “worst ever” nomination list for the agency.

“We demand a new review and we demand the nominations be withdrawn,” KMT chairman Johnny Chiang told supporters gathered outside the Control Yuan building, also in the capital.

Chen is a long-time human rights advocate and was jailed for six years when Taiwan was a dictatorship under the KMT.

Despite the morning’s melee, voting went ahead and Chen’s nomination was approved.

She has said she will quit the DPP after her nomination is approved, to maintain the impartiality of the position, and accused the opposition of smearing her with unfounded accusations.

 

AFP

Taiwan Expels Two Chinese Journalists Over Political Shows

 

 

Taiwan expelled two mainland Chinese journalists Friday after a talk show on their channel pushed for Beijing “unifying” with the self-ruled island, in the latest sign of deteriorating ties between the two rivals.

The move comes after a spate of tit-for-tat expulsions of reporters between China and the United States, as the two superpowers spar over trade and the coronavirus pandemic.

The reporters with China Southeast TV were ordered to leave by Friday for violating regulations covering mainland journalists, according to the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s top China policy body.

They “are suspected of violating the regulations and the authorities have decided not to extend (their permits)… they are scheduled to leave on July 3,” MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng told reporters.

Ai Kezhu, one of the deported journalists involved in producing the shows, told local media at Taoyuan international airport before her departure Friday that they were puzzled by the order.

“We have reported our activities in Taiwan and work content to relevant departments. We have done that in the past 12 years. We think it’s very strange that there were no problems in the past but now there is this kind of situation,” she said.

The channel has routinely aired pro-Beijing content, but a recent series of shows produced in Taiwan provoked public anger for featuring guests especially vocal in their criticism of Taiwan’s government and who pushed for Beijing “unifying” with the island.

“If you enjoy the powers Taiwan has given to belittle and degrade our country and people… we have to ask you to leave because Taiwanese people will not welcome you,” Chen Ting-fei, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, wrote on Facebook.

– Rising tensions -Unlike authoritarian China, which only permits heavily censored state media and routinely harasses foreign reporters, democratic Taiwan has a rambunctious free press — although mainland reporters work under heavier restrictions than other journalists.

Some outlets are vocally pro-Beijing, others deeply critical.

Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Tensions between the sides have grown since Tsai came to power in 2016, as she has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s idea that the self-ruled democratic island is part of “one China”.

Tsai, who views Taiwan as de facto independent, won a landslide reelection in January in what was seen as a strong rebuke to Beijing’s campaign to isolate the island.

Beijing has ramped up diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan as well as increasing military drills near the island, including its military jets breaching Taiwan’s air defence zone with unprecedented frequency in recent weeks.

 

 

-AFP

Hong Kong Publisher Defies China, Re-Opens Bookstore In Taiwan

Lam Wing-kee (C), a bookseller from Hong Kong who in 2015 was detained in China for allegedly bringing banned books into the mainland, stands with Taiwan parliamentary speaker Yu Shyi-kun (L) and secretary general of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lo Wen-jia (R), during the launch of the 'Causeway Bay Books' bookstore in Taipei on April 25, 2020.  Sam Yeh / AFP
Lam Wing-kee (C), a bookseller from Hong Kong who in 2015 was detained in China for allegedly bringing banned books into the mainland, stands with Taiwan parliamentary speaker Yu Shyi-kun (L) and secretary general of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lo Wen-jia (R), during the launch of the ‘Causeway Bay Books’ bookstore in Taipei on April 25, 2020. Sam Yeh / AFP

 

A Hong Kong publisher previously detained by Chinese authorities reopened his bookstore in Taiwan on Saturday, defying what he called attempts linked to Beijing to intimidate him. 

The opening of Lam Wing-kee’s Causeway Bay Books came a year after he fled to the island when the Hong Kong government announced a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to China.

The 64-year-old was one of five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books publishing salacious titles about China’s leaders who vanished and then resurfaced in custody on the mainland in 2015.

He was allowed back to Hong Kong the next year on the condition that he pick up a computer hard drive that listed bookstore customers and return.

Instead, he skipped bail and went public to tell an explosive story of how he was blindfolded by mainland police after crossing the border, and interrogated for months.

“The reopening is very meaningful,” Lam told reporters in the new store in Taipei.

“Causeway Bay Books was destroyed by China through violent means. The reopening proves Taiwan is a place with freedom and democracy and we still have the right to read books,” he added.

On Tuesday, a man pelted red paint at Lam while he was at a cafe, just a day after he received a letter threatening legal action from a person who claimed to have already trademarked the bookstore’s name.

Lam’s attacker reportedly said his fundraising project for the bookstore “damaged” Taiwan’s relations with China.

Police were also investigating a death threat left at a government agency’s Facebook page against him.

Banners reading “Taiwan independence” and “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” decorated the wall of the small shop, which focuses on political titles and was opened with the help of a hugely successful crowd-funding campaign.

The chant “Free Hong Kong” became popular during the huge street protests in the city last year that were initially sparked by the extradition bill but later morphed into a cry for democracy.

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, who is loathed by Beijing, sent a bouquet of flowers for the store opening with a note using a Chinese proverb about justice and fairness.

China still sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, by force if necessary.

Tsai’s government has advertised Taiwan as a place that values liberties and democracy, encouraging media outlets and organisations that are kicked out of authoritarian China to set up shop there instead.

“I feel very proud of Taiwan’s democratic system and of Taiwan valuing the rule of law and human rights,” parliament speaker Yu Shyi-kun, who visited Lam’s shop on Saturday, told reporters.

“I am here to congratulate him (Lam) for reopening his bookstore and to cheer him on.”

Thomas Lan, a 17-year-old customer, said he closely followed the protests in Hong Kong.

“I support Hong Kong young people’s democracy movement,” he told AFP. “And I am worried that Hong Kong today could be Taiwan tomorrow.”

Lam raised around $200,000 — half of the money pledged in less than a day — via online crowd-funding last year to reopen the shop.

AFP

China Slams US For Congratulating Tsai On Taiwan Poll Win

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (C) waves to supporters outside her campaign headquarters in Taipei on January 11, 2020.  Sam Yeh / AFP

 

China on Sunday slammed officials from the US and other countries for congratulating Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen after she was re-elected with a landslide victory in a stunning rebuke of Beijing’s campaign to isolate the self-ruled island.

Tsai, who had pitched herself as a defender of liberal democratic values against an increasingly authoritarian China, secured a record-breaking win in Saturday’s presidential election.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as top diplomats from Britain and Japan, issued statements congratulating Tsai and the island’s democratic elections.

But Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, denounced their actions as violating the one-China principle.

“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

“We oppose any form of official exchange between Taiwan and countries that have established diplomatic relations with China,” he said in a statement.

Chinese state media also sought to downplay Tsai’s victory and cast doubt on the legitimacy of her campaign by accusing the Taiwanese leader of “dirty tactics” and cheating.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) used “dirty tactics such as cheating, repression and intimidation to get votes, fully exposing their selfish, greedy and evil nature”, said official news agency Xinhua in an op-ed Sunday.

Xinhua also accused Tsai of buying votes, and said “external dark forces” were partly responsible for the election results.

Beijing, which has vowed to one day take Taiwan — by force if necessary — loathes Tsai because she refuses to acknowledge the idea that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

China doubled down on its “one-China principle” after Tsai’s victory, with Geng emphasising Sunday that “regardless of what happens in Taiwan, the basic facts won’t change: there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China”.

“The Chinese government’s position won’t change,” he added in a statement.

‘Orchestrating tensions’

Over the last four years, Beijing has ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the island, hoping it would scare voters into supporting Tsai’s opposition.

But the strong-arm tactics have backfired and voters flocked to Tsai’s DPP, fuelled in part by China’s hardline response to months of huge and violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chinese state media have accused Tsai, who frequently invokes Hong Kong’s protests as a warning about a Beijing-controlled Taiwan, of fear-mongering.

Tsai and her party are “orchestrating tensions”, wrote the nationalistic Global Times on Saturday.

At the end of 2019, the Taiwanese leader “wantonly hyped up the so-called threat from the Chinese mainland while slandering Han Kuo-yu’s mainland connections”, it said, referring to her Beijing-friendly main opponent from the Kuomintang party.

Chinese state media also dismissed Saturday’s election results as an anomaly in long-term ties between Taiwan and the mainland, with Xinhua describing Tsai’s win as a “fluke”.

“The fact that the Chinese mainland is getting increasingly stronger and the Taiwan island is getting weaker is an inevitable reality,” added the Global Times.

“Recognising and complying with the reality is the only feasible option for Taiwan’s peaceful development.”

AFP

Taiwan Loses Chief Of General Staff In Chopper Crash

 

 

This photo by Taiwan agency CNA Photo taken on January 1, 2020 and released on January 2, 2020 shows chief of the general staff, Shen Yi-ming (R), attending a New Year’s Day

 

 

Taiwan’s top military officer was killed in a helicopter crash on Thursday, the defence ministry said, just days before the island goes to polls to elect a new president.

The chief of the general staff, Shen Yi-ming, was among eight senior officers — including three major-generals — who died when their Black Hawk helicopter smashed into mountains near Taipei.

The 62-year-old general and his entourage were on a routine mission to visit soldiers in northeast Yilan county when the incident happened.

Flags at all military units will fly at half-mast for three days as Shen was the highest-ranking military official to die while on official duty, the government said.

Lieutenant-general Tsao Ching-ping, one of five survivors, told rescuers in footage broadcast on local TV: “I am okay… two others are injured and only I can walk.”

“There is one more person who’s more seriously wounded and two or three people in the cabin … while two more with no signs of life.”

President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said that she will cancel all campaign activities for three days after the tragedy. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party will also suspend campaigning for three days.

Tsai is seeking a second term against Kaohsiung city mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in the January 11 elections when Taiwan will also elect a new parliament.

 – ‘Deeply saddened’ –

Han and the KMT also expressed condolences to the victims and announced that they will stop campaigning for two days.

“Today is a day that we are deeply saddened because several of our most distinguished generals died while on official duty,” Tsai said at a briefing for the incident.

“I’ve asked the defence minister to maintain stable military morale at this time to ensure steady military and defence operations for the safety and stability of our country.”

There have been a number of incidents involving Black Hawk helicopters — purchased from the United States — in recent years in Taiwan.

In 2018 a chopper belonging to a government rescue agency crashed during a medical mission off outlying Orchid Island, killing six people on board.

There were also two crash landings in 2016 and 2018 with no casualties.

The UH-60M helicopter carrying 13 people disappeared from radar less than 15 minutes after taking off, said Air Force Commander Hsiung Hou-chi, adding that the ministry had set up a taskforce to investigate the incident.

“We are investigating whether (the cause) was environmental or mechanical,” he told reporters.

An air force official said some on board were “trapped under fragments of the helicopter” without elaborating.

The ministry has dispatched ground troops and rescue helicopters to the crash site in northeastern Taiwan. It later said survivors will be carried off the mountains for treatment rather than being air-lifted due to bad weather.

AFP

Taiwan Invites Visitors To Stay In Govt Office

Fancy spending the night in a presidential office?

The unique accommodation is up for grabs in Taiwan, where authorities are rolling out the red carpet for visitors after the island’s tourism industry was hit by a Chinese ban on solo travellers.

“I invite you to visit Taiwan and experience the warmth and hospitality of the people here,” President Tsai Ing-wen said in an English video.

“And while you are here, why don’t you be my guest and spend the night at this presidential office building?”

Up to 20 international tourists will be picked to bed down in the 100-year-old Taipei landmark — free of charge.

An invite to the daily flag-raising ceremony is also to be had, if travellers can brave the 5:30 am start time.

“This programme is the first of its kind in the world and our goal is to show Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and openness,” said presidential spokesman Xavier Chang.

The initiative comes weeks after China announced the suspension of individual travel permits to the island in a move that could hurt its economy.

Taiwan has experienced a sharp drop in mainland tourists since Tsai took office three years ago, and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has accused Beijing of using visitors “as a weapon” to threaten her government.

Beijing still claims the self-ruling, democratic island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

The DPP refuses to recognise the idea that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

Applicants for the programme need to be aged 20 or older, a non-Taiwan citizen and submit their travel plans and a “creative video”. The accommodation is expected to be available from October.

AFP

6.1-Magnitude Quake Hits Taiwan

 

A 6.1-magnitude earthquake jolted Taiwan on Thursday, the US Geological Survey said, shaking buildings and disrupting traffic.

In the capital Taipei, highrises swayed while some panicked schoolchildren fled their classrooms in eastern Yilan county, according to reports.

The quake was felt across the island and a highway connecting Yilan and Hualien was shut down due to falling rocks, authorities said.

An official at the Hualien county fire department told AFP that two people, including a male Malaysian tourist, were injured by falling rocks and that the department was planning to send in medics by helicopter.

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Taipei’s metro system was temporarily closed for safety checks following the quake, officials said.

The quake struck at 1:01 pm (0501 GMT) at a depth of 19 kilometres (11.8 miles) in eastern Hualien county.

The central weather bureau also put its magnitude at 6.1. The USGS had earlier measured it as a 6.0 quake, but later revised it to 6.1.

“The tremor could be felt for 33 seconds, which is considered quite long … It could be felt all over Taiwan and it’s the first quake above 6.0 magnitude this year,” said Chen Kuo-chang, director of the bureau’s seismological centre.

Social media users posted photos of the glasses at a restaurant being shattered by the quake, and of the exterior tiles of a department store building falling.

“I live on the 21st floor, the building swayed so much that I was almost scared to death,” one user posted.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that people living near the coast could notice some effects on sea levels, but said there would be no tsunami, and “there is no concern about damage”.

Hualien was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake last year that killed 17 people.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by quakes.

The island’s worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

AFP

China Renews Vows To Reunite With Taiwan

China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 2, 2019. 
Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP

 

Taiwan’s unification with the mainland is “inevitable”, President Xi Jinping said Wednesday, warning against any efforts to promote the island’s independence and saying China would not renounce the option of using military force to bring it into the fold.

China still sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

 

“China must and will be united… which is an inevitable requirement for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people in the new era,” Xi said in a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of a message sent to Taiwan in 1979, in which Beijing called for unification and an end to military confrontation.

“We make no promise to give up the use of military force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means” against Taiwanese separatist activities and “outside forces” that interfere with reunification, he said.

In his speech, Xi described unification under a “one country, two systems” approach that would “safeguard the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots”.

Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland.

Relations have been strained for the past two years since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s stance that the island is part of “one China”.

On Tuesday, Tsai warned Beijing that Taiwan’s people would never give up the kind of freedoms unseen on the authoritarian mainland.

Beijing “must respect the insistence of 23 million people for freedom and democracy” and “must use peaceful and equal terms to handle our differences”, she said.

‘Rather empty’

Though Xi’s speech takes a strong stance against Taiwanese separatists and pushes for reunification, it is aimed mostly at domestic audiences, analysts say.

“It’s rather empty and doesn’t have any new points except that cross-strait unification would not affect the interests of other countries,” said Fan Shih-ping, a political analyst at National Taiwan Normal University, adding that Xi’s words may also be intended for the US.

In 2018, the US sent multiple ships through the Taiwan Strait –- which China considers its territory but the US and others see as international waters open to all — infuriating Beijing.

Washington also remains Taipei’s most powerful unofficial ally and its main arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.

Xi’s speech is likely to be “very poorly received,” by the US, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, who studies Chinese foreign policy.

‘One country, two systems’

To accommodate differences in Taiwan’s political system and civil society, China has proposed adopting the “one country, two systems” policy, which was implemented in Hong Kong after the British handed the city back to China in 1997.

But some say the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong sets a negative precedent for Taiwan.

“They (China) are gobbling up Hong Kong, not just politically but culturally and economically too”, Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker, told AFP.

“It’s so obvious that they’re trying to assimilate Hong Kong into wider mainland China in every way. How would any Taiwanese think that’s going to work for them?”

Last October, tens of thousands of Taiwan independence campaigners took to the streets in the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since the island first became a democracy more than 20 years ago.

But some in Taiwan say worsening relations with Beijing have harmed business, as cuts to pensions and a reduction in public holidays compound frustrations over a stagnant economy where salaries have not kept up with the rise in cost of living.

Last year, Taiwan’s ruling party suffered a massive defeat in mid-term polls, causing Tsai to resign as leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, while the main opposition Kuomintang, which oversaw an unprecedented thaw with Beijing before Tsai took office in 2016, made gains.

Beijing has adopted a multi-pronged approach to diminish Taiwan’s presence on the international stage in recent years, including blocking it from global forums and poaching its dwindling number of official diplomatic allies.

 

AFP