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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen open to cross-strait talks, but has some demands for Beijing first

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 5/1/2019 Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Tsai Ing-wen wearing a suit and tie © Bloomberg

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Saturday she was open to talks with the mainland if Beijing was willing to promote democracy and renounce the use of force against the self-ruled island.

Tsai’s comments came two days after she rejected Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal for the two sides to start talks on unification based on the "one country, two systems” model which applied in Hong Kong.

"As the democratically elected president, I have to defend our democracy, freedom, and way of life,” she told foreign journalists in Taipei to explain her rejection of Xi’s proposal, made in a speech on Wednesday to mark 40 years since the end of military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.

Tsai said Xi’s statement highlighted two fundamental dangers posed by Beijing to freedom and democracy in Taiwan.

"First, by emphasising ‘one China’ and ‘one country, two systems,’ particularly in the context of the so-called 1992 consensus, China has made clear their political intentions towards Taiwan and their steps for unification.

"This is a major disregard for the fact that the Republic of China, Taiwan does exist, and is in full operation like all other democratic countries,” she said.

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"Second, China’s plan to engage in political consultation with the political parties instead of the democratically elected government of Taiwan, is a continuation of its deliberate campaign to undermine and subvert our democratic process and create division in our society.”

The 1992 consensus refers to an understanding that there is only one China, though each side may have its own interpretation of what constitutes "China”.

In his speech, Xi rephrased the consensus as an understanding that "the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China, jointly seeking to achieve cross-strait unification”.

Beijing suspended official talks and exchanges with Taiwan when Tsai was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the consensus.

Since then Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting unification by force if necessary, has staged a series of war games to intimidate the island and poached five of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to try to pressure Tsai into accepting the consensus.

"As a democracy, cross-strait interaction must follow the rules and oversight of the people of Taiwan, and therefore any discussions must be between governments that are representative of the people on both sides,” Tsai said on Saturday.

She identified a lack of mutual trust as the key problem keeping the two sides from consulting on a possible way of dealing with each other.

"The lack of democracy and protection of human rights, as well as the military threats from China are the major reasons [that people here do not trust Beijing],” Tsai said.

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This was why majority opinion in Taiwan opposed cross-strait unification, as people there did not want to live in a system without democracy and human rights, she said.

Asked if the Tsai administration would want talks with Beijing, Tsai said her government did not oppose talks, but Beijing must "move towards democracy, protect human rights and renounce the use of force against us”.

"Only when the two sides step up efforts to accumulate adequate trust will the room for [negotiation] be widened and options [for talks] increased,” she said.

Tsai said Taiwan had long adhered to the principle of refraining from provoking Beijing and had done all it could to maintain stability in the region.

On the contrary, she said, Beijing had tried to suppress Taiwan and refused to cooperate with the island, even on health issues like the outbreak of African swine fever which threatened the well-being of the public in Taiwan.

Tsai added that she had also sought international support to defend the self-ruled island’s democracy and way of life, as well as Taiwan’s refusal to accept the one country, two systems approach offered by Xi for unification talks, given Beijing’s snubbing of democracy and human rights.

She asked Beijing to take note of the democratic mindset of Taiwanese people to avert misunderstanding and misjudgment over its dealing with Taiwan.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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