TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Saturday that Taiwan will be “calm” when dealing with China, but uncertainties in 2017 will test the self-ruled island and its national security team, even as she recommitted to maintaining peace.
China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who it thinks wants to push for the formal independence of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing regards as a renegade province.
Speaking at a year end news conference, Tsai said Taiwan was “a sovereign, independent nation”, repeating her government’s regular mantra, which was open to fresh talks with China, but added that recent developments had not helped China-Taiwan ties.
“Faced with some uncertainty, we will maintain peace and stability, while trying to find new possibilities,” Tsai said.
“This will test the resilience of all of our national security team and the overall government.”
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump angered China this month when he spoke to Tsai in a break with decades of precedent and cast doubt on his incoming administration’s commitment to Beijing’s “one China” policy.
China’s military has become alarmed by what it sees as Trump’s support of Taiwan and is considering strong measures to prevent the island from moving toward independence, sources with ties to senior military officers said.
Relations between China and Taiwan have worsened since Tsai, who heads the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in January, even as she has pledged to maintain peace with China.
Beijing wants Tsai to concede to its “one China” principle, that Taiwan is a part of China, but seven months since she took office in May, Tsai has not done so.
Beijing suspended official communication channels with Taipei in June and this month re-established ties with small African state Sao Tome five days after it broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China also sailed a group of Chinese warships, led by its sole aircraft carrier, around the island in exercises it called routine.
“Some things have happened between (Taiwan and China) or this region. Even though we have felt it, we will calmly face them,” Tsai said. She said both sides should be flexible and that there was room to talk with China.
Taiwan’s pledge to maintain peace and stability has not changed and its goodwill toward China has not changed, she said, adding that Taiwan will not be pressured.
“Cross-strait relations are certainly a challenge for the people of Taiwan and for this country,” she said. “But don’t forget that we are a sovereign, independent nation and this is a recognition by the collective (in Taiwan),” Tsai said.
Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a Chinese civil war and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.
Further drama looms with Tsai’s transit through the United States next month for a Latin America trip. China has called on the United States to block the transits.
Tsai said the transit was unofficial, and speculation about it “excessive”.
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry