US secretary of state sent message hailing re-elected Tsai Ing-wen’s ‘courage and vision’
Beijing has expressed its “strong indignation” after the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, sent a message hailing the re-elected Taiwanese president’s “courage and vision” to be read at her inauguration ceremony.
Dr Tsai Ing-wen secured a second term with a landslide win in January, a rebuke of Beijing’s ongoing campaign to isolate the island, which it claims as its own and vows it will be brought under control by force if necessary.
Pompeo said Tsai’s “courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy [was] an inspiration to the region and the world”, in remarks Taiwan described as the first delivered to a Taiwanese president by a US secretary of state.
China’s foreign ministry said Pompeo’s act had severely damaged peace and stability in the strait between Taiwan and China. It warned it would take “necessary countermeasures” and the US would have to bear the consequences, but did not elaborate.
Tsai said in her inauguration address that celebrated the self-governing island’s successful fight against coronavirus that Taiwan would not accept attempts by China to “downgrade” its status and pledged to stand up to pressure from Beijing.
She said both sides must find a way to coexist. “We have resisted the pressure of aggression and annexation, we have made the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Although we were once isolated in the world, we have always persisted in values of democracy and freedom no matter the challenges ahead of us.
“We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo,” she said, referring to the framework under which the troubled region of Hong Kong is governed.
Beijing also responded swiftly to Tsai’s speech and said China would never leave any room for “Taiwan independence separatist activities”.
Her remarks come as China prepares to host a key political event this week and after an international campaign to restore Taiwan’s status as an observer to the world health assembly (WHA), which Beijing has blocked since 2016. Shortly before Monday’s WHA meeting, Taiwan’s foreign minister announced, with “deep regret and strong dissatisfaction”, that its bid would be put on ice for now.
Beijing is facing growing international criticism over Covid-19, which emerged in China late last year. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s global standing has been boosted by its response to the pandemic, which has been praised as effective without encroaching on its citizens’ civil liberties.
Taiwan responded quickly to the outbreak, monitoring and screening incoming travellers from as early as 31 December, enacting travel restrictions, mandatory quarantine testing and phone tracking. It also banned the export of face masks to ensure domestic supply. After testing nearly 70,000 people, it has confirmed 440 cases of the virus, of which seven were fatal. There have been no new confirmed cases in almost three weeks.
In recent months, there has been an apparent increase in provocative action by Chinese forces in the seas separating the two regions, including sending military flotillas and flybys towards Taiwan, and some calls for “reunification by force” from Beijing.
While analysts believe an invasion is not likely, Chinese state media have been quick to point out China’s military might.
“What ultimately determines the direction of the situation across the Taiwan Strait is a contest of strength,” said an editorial from the state-run Global Times, published immediately after Tsai’s speech.
Tsai had called on the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to help “prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences”.
China’s Taiwan affairs office said Beijing would continue “to work together with people from both sides to deepen development”, but would never tolerate any act separating Taiwan from China, or leave any room for any forms of independence.
Spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said reunification was “the natural trend of history”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Tsai’s speech had also pledged growth and changes in Taiwan. Several of her plans appeared to directly challenge China’s global interests, including a pledge to develop a cybersecurity industry integrated with the global 5G transformation. China’s Huawei technology company has come up against resistance and outright bans from some countries’ 5G networks because of security concerns.
“We will strive to create a cybersecurity system and industrial chain which can protect our country and earn the world’s trust,” she said.
Tsai noted the amount of attention Taiwan had received over recent months, and thanked citizens for their efforts in responding to the outbreak. She said the island’s work during the pandemic had “changed the way the international community views Taiwan”, which presented both opportunities and challenges.
“You have shown the world Taiwan’s commitment to civic virtues, even in times of greatest distress … This is is what solidarity feels like,” she said. “It takes more than fervour to govern a country.”
China’s state-run Global Times quickly issued an editorial, accusing Pompeo of congratulating Tsai to deliberately challenge Beijing.
“The US and Taiwan want to play petty tricks at a low cost, which is too naive. We will make them feel pain in some places that they can’t think of,” it said in a tweet.
“Washington and the Tsai administration are so narcissistic that they think they can make the mainland uncomfortable and have nothing to do by saying a few words,” it said.
“The mainland’s military strength has been able to effectively overwhelm the Taiwan military and deter the US. The economic power between the two sides of the Taiwan strait is tilted toward the mainland. This is the broad outline of the situation across the Taiwan strait.”