TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, said Monday her self-ruled island will not bow to Chinese pressure and that Beijing should recognize her government’s existence and engage with it in talks, in remarks likely to further anger China.
Speaking in a National Day address, Tsai acknowledged that ties between Taiwan and China have been bumpy in recent months.
“But we will not bow to pressure, and we will of course not revert to the old path of confrontation,” she said at a ceremony outside the Presidential Office Building in central Taipei attended by 11,000 people, including more than 360 foreign guests.
China should “face up to the reality” of the Taiwanese government’s existence and of the island’s democracy, Tsai said, adding that the two sides should “sit down and talk as soon as possible.”
China claims Taiwan is its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary. Tsai’s election in January upended Beijing’s strategy of using economic inducements to convince Taiwanese that political unification is not only inevitable but also in their best interests.
Tsai said her government wants to maintain the status quo, referring to the state of tense but stable peace and robust economic exchanges between the sides, which split during China’s civil war in 1949.
China has said it isn’t satisfied with that position and demands she endorse Beijing’s formulation that the two are part of a single Chinese nation. That formula was embraced by her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, who was seated on the stage at the ceremony.
Tsai’s reluctance to do so, and risk alienating her party’s supporters, clashes with her hopes for renewed talks between the sides that Beijing cut off shortly after her May inauguration, said Liu Yi-jiun, a professor of public affairs at Taiwan’s Fo Guang University.
“So far I just don’t see anything happening at this time,” Liu said. “(Tsai) really wants her counterparts to sit down and find some solution. That’s something positive. But I don’t think these kinds of words will turn the situation around.”
Whether Taiwan’s public likes the speech is hard to say because it covers “nothing new,” Liu said, adding that China “will just carry on.”
Tsai’s reference to the need to maintain progress since a breakthrough meeting in 1992 between the sides, and her use of Taiwan’s official name, the Republic of China, could be seen by Beijing as a positive sign that she intends no radical moves toward formal independence, said Nathan Liu, an international affairs professor at Ming Chuan University in Taipei.
If China instead insists on maintaining the current stalemate, “that’s not going to help,” he said.
Responding to Tsai’s remarks, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing would not budge from its fundamental demands and would oppose and contain any steps toward Taiwanese independence.
Spokesman An Fengshan said in a statement that talks can only proceed on the basis of the formulation Beijing calls the “92 consensus” that recognizes Taiwan and China as part of a single Chinese nation.
Rejecting that principle is an “evil road that goes nowhere,” An said.
“There is no force that can block the historical stride of national unification and the revitalization of the people,” he said.
Taiwan prison authorities declined to let ex-Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian out of house arrest to attend the event. Chen, elected to office in 2000 as the candidate of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party, is serving a sentence for corruption. China despised Chen for his pursuit of greater independence for Taiwan.
Formations of troops during Monday’s ceremony were lighter than in previous years, when large amounts of military hardware rolled past the Presidential Office Building in a gesture of strength to China.
Tsai also discussed plans to strengthen the island’s high-tech, export-dependent economy and improve opportunities for young people.