Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen gave her first speech in the US in 15 years


IT WAS a brief fleeting speech made between flights — but it’s enraged a rising superpower.

As China builds on its attempts to wipe Taiwan from international recognition, the smaller country’s leader Tsai Ing-wen has given her first speech in the United States in 15 years.

She spoke of the importance of freedom, democracy and independence — words that fell at odds with China’s perception of Taiwan as a small part of itself.

At this stage, rising tensions between the two countries are the last thing anyone could want, with experts warning of a prospective major war looming in the region.


During a stopover en route to Paraguay, Tsai Ing-wen — whose government refuses to endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of China — vowed to defend democratic values.

“We will keep our pledge that we are willing to jointly promote regional stability and peace under the principles of national interests, freedom and democracy,” Ms Tsai said in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

“In going abroad, the whole world can see Taiwan; they can see our country as well as our support for democracy and freedom.”

And then, in a fleeting reference to the mainland: “We only need to be firm so that no one can obliterate Taiwan’s existence.”

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her visit to Los Angeles, California during a stopover en route to allies Paraguay and Belize.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during her visit to Los Angeles, California during a stopover en route to allies Paraguay and Belize.Source:AFP

A furious Beijing said it had lodged an official protest with the US over the speech, where she said Taiwan’s freedom and future were non-negotiable.

China views Taiwan as part of its own territory — to be reunified by force, if it comes to that.

The larger country is always swift to condemn any move that could be interpreted as de facto diplomatic recognition of the government in Taipei, and has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Ms Tsai came to power in 2016.


Neither China nor Taiwan see themselves as two separate countries.

But they do have different governments, and the trouble is each side believes itself to be the owner of both territories, in a conflict that dates back almost 100 years.

In 1927, a civil war broke out in the Republic of China between the Communist revolutionaries and the Nationalist government.

In 1949, the Nationalists were defeated and fled to Taiwan, which their forces still controlled.

At this point the fighting stopped, but the dispute wasn’t resolved; both sides continued to claim both mainland China and Taiwan belonged to them.

In 1979, the United States switched its recognition from the Taiwan government to Beijing’s. A number of other countries — including Australia — followed suit, and it’s understood no American leader has communicated openly with a Taiwanese president since.

China and Taiwan have had separate governments since 1949.

China and Taiwan have had separate governments since 1949.Source:AFP

Ties between Taiwan and the US have warmed further since Donald Trump came to power, and were further bolstered by the passage this week of the National Defence Authorisation Act, which includes a commitment to military support of Taiwan.

Last month, the US sent two warships into the Taiwan Strait. That followed a string of military drills staged by Beijing around the island.

Chinese state newspaper Global Times accused the US and Taiwan of “shady dealings”, warning that the mainland was capable of giving the Taiwanese authorities “a drastic punishment”.

Meanwhile, the US has repeatedly expressed concern about China’s increasing pressure on Taiwan.


Mr Trump has denied any change to its “One China” policy.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the speech did not represent any move by the Trump administration to alter the official US stance that accepts Beijing as the sole government of China, and does not officially recognise Taiwan’s government.

“The United States in regard to this trip facilitates from time to time representatives of the Taiwan authorities to transit the United States.

“Those are largely undertaken out of consideration for the safety and the comfort of those travellers, and that is in keeping with our One China policy.”

President Donald Trump has denied any changes to America’s “One China” policy.

President Donald Trump has denied any changes to America’s “One China” policy.Source:AP

Yet previous US administrations have prevented Taiwan leaders from making speeches in the United States that would implicitly elevate their diplomatic status and irk Beijing.


Tsai’s stopover came amid a rise in tensions between China and Taiwan that has raised concerns in Washington.

In April the Chinese military held live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait in what was widely seen as a move to intimidate Taipei.

In Singapore in June, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis warned China not to alter the security status quo in the region.

Last month, Beijing forced several international airlines, including US carriers, to begin listing Taiwan as a part of China in advertising their services.

Dr Brendan Taylor, Associate Professor at ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, argued that Taiwan was one of the most dangerous crossroads for a prospective new major war.

In his new book, The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes to Warhe describes Taiwan as a “ticking time bomb”.

“America’s military ability to defend Taiwan is already at its limit,” he writes. “The US advantage will likely be gone in a decade … allowing Beijing to deny America access to this theatre.

“America’s ability to intervene in the Taiwan Strait is receding, while an attempt to re-engage carries the risk of sparking a war like no other.”

News Corporation Network


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