Fast And Furious Star Cena Apologises For Calling Taiwan A Country

An aerial view shows near-deserted roads in Taipei on May 25, 2021, after Taiwan on May 19 raised its coronavirus alert level following a widening outbreak. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)

 

“Fast & Furious 9” star John Cena made a U-turn Tuesday, apologising to Chinese fans after he called Taiwan a “country” and sparked outrage in the world’s largest movie market.

Beijing sees democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory which is to be seized one day, by force if necessary, and rages at any diplomatic attempts to recognise the island as an independent nation.

But American wrestling star turned actor Cena left his diplomatic lane during a trip to Taiwan in early May to promote the franchise of action movies about fast cars, making the “country” comment during a fan meet.

On Tuesday, as outrage billowed across China’s social media, he released an apology on the Weibo platform in conversational-level Mandarin.

READ ALSO: Indonesia Arrests Four For Stealing Vaccines Meant For Prisoners

“I did many, many interviews for Fast & Furious 9, and I made a mistake during one interview,” Cena said in the video, without repeating the controversial term.

“I must say, which is very very important, that I love and respect China and Chinese people. I’m very, very sorry for my mistake. I apologise.”

The video was played 2.4 million times on the strictly-controlled social media site, while Chinese media leapt on the apology.

Fast & Furious 9 smashed through the box office during its May 21 release in China last weekend, raking in $148 million, according to the nationalist Global Times newspaper.

But social media users appeared only partially appeased.

“Please say ‘Taiwan is part of China’ in Chinese, or we won’t accept it,” said one Weibo handle, while another lamented the American’s apparent lack of knowledge that “Taiwan is an integral part of China”.

China’s vast consumer market has in recent years been weaponised against critics of Beijing.

Entities including the NBA and global fashion giants have faced boycotts and a battering on social media for speaking out on rights abuses or political issues China deems off-limits.

AFP

Taiwan Blames China For Latest WHO Meeting Snub

A community park, closed due to social distancing measures following a spike in Covid-19 coronavirus cases, is seen in Taipei’s Wenshan district on May 22, 2021. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP)

 

Taiwan hit out at China on Monday over its continued exclusion from a crucial annual gathering of World Health Organization members this week focused on averting the next pandemic catastrophe.

On the first day of the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA), the UN health agency’s 194 member states decided once again not to even discuss whether or not Taiwan should be allowed to participate.

This year’s assembly will arguably be one of the most important in the WHO’s history amid calls to revamp the organisation and the entire global approach to health in the wake of the

But Taiwan — which had one of the world’s best pandemic responses — remains locked out for the fifth consecutive year.

That is because China, which views the self-governed democracy as part of its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, has waged an increasingly assertive campaign to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage.

Taiwan continued to plead Monday for access to the assembly, with foreign minister Joseph Wu urging the WHO to “maintain a professional and neutral stance, reject China’s political interference” and allow Taiwan’s participation.

But the WHO’s main decision-making body decided against even discussing the matter.

More than a dozen mainly small island states had proposed including discussion of whether or not to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer on the WHA agenda.

But a committee advised against doing so and the countries agreed to follow it without a vote.

– ‘Politicising’ –

Several Taiwan supporters spoke up, with a representative from Nauru warning that “Taiwan’s exclusion contradicts the fundamental principles and objectives” of WHO.

“The political pressure… from one country should not legitimise the continued exclusion of Taiwan.”

Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, meanwhile slammed attempts to include Taiwan, and called on countries “to stop politicising health issues and using the Taiwan issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Beijing’s block on Taipei attending the WHA as an observer began after the 2016 election of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”.

But the coronavirus pandemic crystallised support for Taiwan’s 23 million inhabitants, especially in the early days of the crisis when it defeated its own outbreak and then began supplying protection equipment around the world.

Taiwan has been hailed as an example in combating the pandemic although clusters in recent weeks have seen infections more than triple to 4,917 cases.

The island has recorded 29 deaths so far.

Health minister Chen Shih-chung said the recent “escalation” of cases showed Taiwan “cannot remain on the sidelines and there should not be a gap in global disease prevention”.

“The WHO should serve the health and welfare of all humanity and not capitulate to the political interests of a certain member,” Chen said in a statement.

International support for Taiwan has been stronger this year, including a communique issued by G7 foreign ministers that backed Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in WHO and the WHA”.

In a separate announcement on Monday, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) blamed “external forces” for a flood of online disinformation during the latest cluster such as hospitals dumping bodies in rivers and mass cremations.

While officials did not name China, they said much of the disinformation going viral was written in the simplified Chinese used on the mainland, not the traditional characters used in Taiwan.

“Spreading disinformation is a very serious matter, it interferes with our country’s anti-pandemic measures and responses while causing unnecessary panic among the public,” CECC deputy chief Chen Tsung-yen said.

AFP

Taiwan Grounds Military Jets After Pilot Dies In Suspected Mid-Air Crash

 

 

Taiwan grounded all military aircraft for training and exercises after a pilot was killed and another went missing on Monday when their fighter jets had a suspected mid-air collision.

The air force made the announcement after two single-seater F-5E aircraft disappeared from radar at around 3 pm (0700 GMT) some 2.6 kilometres (1.6 miles) off the coast of southern Pingtung county.

They were among four F-5Es that took off about 30 minutes earlier for a routine training mission, and the incident occurred when they were changing formation at an altitude of some 14,000 feet, chief of staff Huang Chih-wei said.

An initial probe showed a crash was the suspected cause and that “mechanical and weather factors” were not involved, he added.

One of the pilots was found unconscious in the sea but could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at hospital.

It was the third fatal crash in less than six months Taiwan.

“The air force has temporarily grounded for all its aircraft for (safety) reviews… we’ve suspended training and exercises although ‘combat readiness’ missions will be carried out normally,” Huang said.

READ ALSO: EU Sanctions Myanmar Military Chief Over Coup

“The defence ministry is making every effort in the hope of rescuing the missing pilot within the golden 72 hours” of rescue time, he told reporters.

The National Rescue Command Centre said two helicopters and six coastguard ships had joined the search.

Police confirmed they found a seat with a parachute attached on a local highway.

Taiwan’s ageing fighter fleet has suffered a string of fatal accidents in recent years as the island’s air force is kept under constant pressure by China.

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

Under President Xi Jinping, China has become markedly more hostile towards Taiwan and last year, incursions by Beijing’s fighter jets reached record highs.

The incursions force outgunned Taiwan to regularly scramble its jets and keep pilots trained on a round-the-clock war footing that takes its toll on ageing aircraft and those flying them.

In October, an F-5E pilot was killed when his plane crashed off the island’s eastern coast.

A month later, Taiwan temporarily grounded all F-16 fighters for safety checks after one went missing during a training exercise.

The F-5E is an older generation fighter with a design that dates back to the 1960s.

There were nine incidents involving F-5E jets in the past two decades, including Monday’s crash, that left ten pilots dead and three missing.

Last year, Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwanwaw air defence identification zone (ADIZ), with some analysts warning that tensions between the two sides were at their highest since the mid-1990s.

On Monday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said it scrambled combat air patrol aircraft and broadcast warnings to leave when two Chinese J-10 fighters entered its southwest ADIZ.

AFP

Taiwan Pilot Killed, Another Missing After Fighter Jets Collide

Taiwan Flag

 

 

A Taiwanese air force pilot was killed and another was missing on Monday after their fighter jets disappeared in a suspected mid-air collision off the island’s southern coast, officials said.

The two F-5E jets disappeared from radar around 3 pm (0700 GMT) some 2.6 kilometres (1.6 miles) off the coast of rural Pingtung county, the National Rescue Command Centre said.

They were among four F-5Es that took off some 30 minutes earlier for a routine training mission, the centre said, adding helicopters and coastguard ships had joined the search.

{READ ALSO} COVID-19: Taiwan Starts Vaccination Drive With AstraZeneca

One of the pilots was found unconscious in the sea but could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Rescuers were still searching for the remaining pilot.

Police confirmed they found a seat with a parachute attached on a local highway.

Taiwan’s ageing fighter fleet has suffered a string of fatal accidents in recent years as the island’s air force is kept under constant pressure by China.

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

Under President Xi Jinping, China has become markedly more hostile towards Taiwan and last year, incursions by Beijing’s fighter jets reached record highs.

The incursions force outgunned Taiwan to regularly scramble its jets and keep pilots trained on a round-the-clock war footing that takes its toll on ageing aircraft and those flying them.

In October, an F-5E pilot was killed when his plane crashed off the island’s eastern coast.

A month later, Taiwan temporarily grounded all F-16 fighters for safety checks after one went missing during a training exercise.

Last year, Chinese military jets made a record 380 incursions into Taiwan’s defence zone, with some analysts warning that tensions between the two sides were at their highest since the mid-1990s.

The F-5E is an older generation fighter with a design that dates back to the 1960s.

Funny Old World: The Week’s Offbeat News

Taiwan’s government says the sudden name changes are fishy. (Photo: AFP)

 

 

Our weekly roundup of offbeat stories from around the world:

Only codding

Taiwan has been forced to ask people to stop changing their name to “salmon” after scores of young people did just that to take up a giveaway at a chain of sushi restaurants.

Any customer whose ID card contained “Gui Yu” — the Chinese characters for salmon — could get all the sushi they and five friends could eat.

But what has been dubbed “Salmon Chaos” drove officials to distraction, with a minister forced to appeal to people to be “more rational”.

“I just changed my name this morning,” said a student called Ma who changed his name to “Explosive Good Looking Salmon”.

He had already eaten $235 worth of free sushi, he boasted.

A woman called Tung said she and two friends also changed their names.

“We’ll just change our names back afterwards,” she said.

Other fishy names reported in local media include “Salmon Prince”, “Meteor Salmon King” and “Salmon Fried Rice”

And one far-sighted man has added 36 new characters to his name, most of them seafood-related, including crab, abalone, and lobster, in anticipation of the next free offer.

Sadly no one has yet had the foresight to call themselves Teri Yaki.

Choo moo!

To India, a video of a passenger train rolling backward for 35 kilometres (20 miles) went viral after the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a cow.

Cows are sacred to Hindus but passengers were not amused when the New Delhi to Tanakpur service began to roll backwards out of control back to the capital after the sudden stop.

North Eastern Railway did not explain how the train was halted but said it “stopped just short of Khatima yard safely”.

There was no word on how the cow is doing.

Austria’s mask beef

In another crushing victory for bovines, judges decreed that Austrians can now wear cow masks and not be arrested for breaching the country’s ban on face coverings.

Its constitutional court said police were wrong to fine an animal rights activist for wearing a cow mask at a protest against intensive dairy farming.

The controversial 2017 ban aimed at the Islamic face veil has been further called into question since the coronavirus pandemic made mask-wearing mandatory in shops, public transport, and crowded public places.

 

In this photo taken on December 2, 2020 a face mask hangs with a table tennis bat cover at a park in Beijing. GREG BAKER / AFP
In this photo taken on December 2, 2020 a face mask hangs with a table tennis bat cover at a park in Beijing. GREG BAKER / AFP

 

Aussies employ jellyfish terror

Australia added another chapter to its long love story with insects and animals that can kill you when its Olympic surfing team named themselves  “The Irukandjis” after a deadly and difficult to pronounce jellyfish.

With other national sports teams already called the Wallabies, Crocs, Sharks, Emus, Koalas, Kookaburras, Dingos, Wombats, Firetails, Joeys, Kangaroos and Jillaroos, there wasn’t much wildlife left for the surfers, who will be making their debut at the Tokyo Games.

The irukandji — pronounced ira-khan-ji — is a tiny and highly venomous box jellyfish with an incredibly painful sting.

So painful in fact that researchers believe it one of the world’s most poisonous creatures — all the more to swell Aussie hearts with pride.

“The Irukandji is ferocious in the water and that is how our Australian surfers approach competition,” said seven-time world surfing champion, the wonderfully-named Layne Beachley.

The team got permission from the Yirrganydji people of northern-eastern Australia to use the name, and their kit is being designed by an indigenous artist.

The surfers will be joined in Japan by Australia’s  football team, the Socceroos, and their under-23 Olympic outfit, the Olyroos.

Given the difficulty of chanting “Come on you Irukandjis!” — and the Australian genius for shortening names — some suspect the surfers may end up being called “the Jellies” or even “the Jeez”.

Taiwan Blames Pilot For First COVID-19 Transmission Since April

 

Taiwan reported its first local coronavirus transmission Tuesday, blaming a foreign pilot for ending 253 days of being virus-free.

Health authorities said a woman in her thirties had tested positive after contact with the pilot, a New Zealander working for a Taiwan airline.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the pilot had failed to “truthfully declare” his contacts and activities to authorities once he had been confirmed as a carrier.

Authorities said the pilot — who faces a fine of up to NT$300,000 ($10,600) — visited several establishments including a department store.

The infection is a blow for an island that has been lauded for its pandemic response, having recorded just 770 coronavirus cases and seven deaths after it shut its borders early and implemented strict quarantine rules.

Since April 12 all positive cases have been from a small number of locals returning to the island and also among the few foreigners and migrant workers allowed in for business reasons.

The vast majority of arrivals have to quarantine for two weeks and must test negative, a measure which — until Tuesday — had successfully kept any carriers from introducing the virus to the local community.

Pilots, however, currently undergo a less strict three days of self-quarantine after each overseas trip and the new case has already sparked debate about whether those measures should be tightened.

Soon after the virus first emerged in central China, Taiwan shuttered its borders, ramped up mask production, and rolled out a well-oiled track and trace programme.

Within two months of its first outbreak, local infections had ceased.

Throughout the year the island of 24 million has managed to avoid the widespread lockdown and closures that have blighted the rest of the world.

It is on track to grow its economy by some 2.5 percent this year.

-AFP

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