Taiwan hopes to find 'natural way' to engage with China's Xi at APEC

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan hopes to find a “natural way” to exchange views with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders that starts in Vietnam this week, the self-ruled island’s envoy to the meeting said on Monday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have nosedived since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected last year. China believes she wants formal independence for Taiwan, a red line for Beijing.

For her part, Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China but will defend Taiwan’s democracy and security. China regards Taiwan as its sovereign territory.

China has suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taiwan, stepped up military drills around the island and boosted diplomatic pressure by siphoning off its remaining diplomatic allies.

Speaking to reporters before leaving for Vietnam, Taiwan’s APEC envoy James Soong said Tsai had both pointed out to him and said publicly that Taiwan was willing to engage with China.

“Moreover, we also need to say that both sides of the Taiwan Strait should have some constructive dialogue,” Soong said.

“President Tsai has clearly said to us to use a natural way with Xi Jinping at this APEC meeting to have the opportunity to exchange views,” he added, without elaborating on how the two might meet.

At the last APEC summit in the Peruvian capital of Lima, Xi and Soong chatted briefly on the sidelines, but had no formal bilateral meeting.

The China-born Soong heads the China-friendly People First Party, has met Xi twice before and has visited China.

He referred to his past meetings with Xi and also Tsai’s recent reiteration that peace and sincerity should mark engagement by both sides.

“I will have the opportunity to express this view again to the other side,” Soong said.

China has not said if Xi plans to meet Soong.

Asked last week about the possibility of a Xi-Soong meeting, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong would say only that China hoped Taiwan’s “activities” at APEC would accord with the grouping’s rules and not affect the summit.

Despite Taiwan’s lack of diplomatic recognition from the vast majority of countries, APEC allows the island to participate as a separate economic, rather than political, entity.

In 2013, Xi told Taiwan’s envoy at an APEC summit in Indonesia that a political solution for Taiwan could not wait forever.

Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez