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Incoming Taiwan leader is open to Beijing dialogue ‘on equal footing’ with ‘mutual respect’: envoy

WorldIncoming Taiwan leader is open to Beijing dialogue ‘on equal footing’ with ‘mutual respect’: envoy

Lai’s inauguration is scheduled for May 20.

Alexander Tah-ray Yui is the top official at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington. Photo: Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The new administration favours maintaining the status quo, Yui added, saying this was in keeping with sentiment on the island.

“If you ask people in Taiwan nowadays, most Taiwanese prefer the status quo. This has ensured our peace and tranquillity,” said Yui, without mentioning the 1992 consensus that Beijing sees as a prerequisite for improved cross-strait ties.

The 1992 consensus – an unofficial agreement that there is only one China but the two sides may disagree about what that means – was reached when Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, was in power.

Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it will eventually unite the island with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Washington opposes any attempt to take the island by force and remains committed to supplying it with weapons.

The Chinese embassy in Washington responded sharply, asserting that Lai persistently espoused separatist ideals, openly identifying himself as a “pragmatic worker” for Taiwan independence.

Describing reunification as an “inevitable trends of history”, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the embassy, said that “if Lai really wants to resume cross-strait dialogue, he should return to the political basis of the 1992 consensus”.

Yui’s remarks, made on the sidelines of an event at George Washington University in Washington marking 45 years of the Taiwan Relations Act, come weeks after ex-Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Ma’s visit to the mainland was the first by a former leader of the island since 1949, and he called on his successor to take note of Xi’s goodwill and refrain from “walking the independence path”.

“Guarantee not to pursue Taiwan independence, allow both sides of the strait to return to the common political foundation of the 1992 consensus and engage in various exchanges on an equal and dignified basis,” Ma said in April.

Lai of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential election in January with slightly more than 40 per cent of the vote.

The Beijing-friendly Kuomintang candidate, Hou Yu-ih, placed second with 33.5 per cent, and Ko Wen-je of the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party garnered 26.5 per cent of the vote.

Yui also said the new administration would continue to align with outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, with whom Lai has served as vice-president since 2020.
During Tsai’s two terms in office starting in 2016, cross-strait relations have stayed tense largely as a consequence of her refusal to accept the one-China principle, which Beijing considers the foundation for communication between the two sides.

Since then, Beijing has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan and intensified pressure on the island through military, diplomatic and economic measures. This has coincided with Taipei’s increasing diplomatic and defence ties with Washington.

“We are in the region, we have to prosper together,” said Yui. “We don’t want confrontations. We are responsible. We will not be the aggressors. We will not start the aggression, but [we] will also not be bullied by a stronger force.”

Ahead of Lai’s inauguration, Beijing has ramped up its military activity around the island, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry. Meanwhile, Beijing has eased some restrictions on travel to the island and food imports from it.

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