TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan is ready to have “meaningful” talks with China as equals as long as they are willing to put aside confrontation, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday, offering another olive branch to Beijing in her New Year’s speech.
Democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sovereign territory, has come under increasing pressure from Beijing, which has ramped up military activity near the island.
China says it is responding to “collusion” between Washington and Taipei, angered at growing U.S. support for the self-governed island. Beijing views this a precursor to Taiwan declaring formal independence, a red line for China.
Speaking at the presidential office, Tsai said that in the past year, Chinese military activity near Taiwan has threatened peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I want to reiterate, that when it comes to cross-strait relations we will not advance rashly and will stick to our principles,” Tsai said.
“As long as the Beijing authorities are determined to defuse antagonism and improve cross-strait relations, in line with the principles of reciprocity and dignity, we are willing to jointly promote meaningful dialogue,” she added, echoing comments she made in October in her national day speech.
China, which cut off a formal talks mechanism in 2016 after she first won office, has repeatedly rejected Tsai’s advances, saying she has to first accept Taiwan is part of China, something Tsai has refused to do.
Tsai expressed her hope that once the COVID-19 epidemic is under control, “normal and orderly exchanges to increase understanding and reduce misunderstandings” between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait can resume.
While there was no direct response from Beijing, Liu Jieyi, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in his new year’s message they would stand by the “one China” principle.
“Only by eliminating the scourge of ‘Taiwan independence’ can there be peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Switching to English, Tsai said she was deeply grateful for the international community’s continued backing for Taiwan.
“Our democracy is stronger because of your support.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill)