January 20, 2017 / 8:27 AM / 8 months ago

Amid tension, Taiwan says wants 'new era' of peace with China

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters as she leaves a hotel for her return to Taiwan after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSVK36

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan aspires to create a “new era” of peace with China as military action cannot resolve problems, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said in a letter to Pope Francis, lauding Taipei’s peaceful intentions at a time of tension with Beijing.

The issue of self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan has shot to the top of the international agenda since U.S. President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades of precedent last month by taking a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai.

That, along with subsequent comments by Trump that the “one China” policy was up for negotiation, has infuriated Beijing, which views Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing, and has cut off a formal dialogue mechanism with the island.

Chinese military aircraft and warships, including its sole aircraft carrier, have also recently operated close to Taiwan in what China called routine drills.

In her Jan. 5 letter to the Pope, released by her office on Friday, Tsai said upholding peace across the Taiwan Strait needed goodwill and communication.

“Based on many years of experience in cross-Strait negotiations during my political career, I am convinced that military action cannot resolve problems,” Tsai said.

“Taiwan and mainland China were once embroiled in a zero-sum conflict that caused tension in the region and anxiety among our peoples. In contrast, today people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait enjoy stable lives and normal exchanges under peaceful separate governance.”

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists.

Tsai added that Taiwan was committed to maintaining its democracy and the status quo of peace but would not bow to pressure.

“I urge the governing party across the strait, together with the governing party in Taiwan, to set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue,” Tsai said.

TAIWAN‘S VATICAN ALLY

The Vatican is one of only a handful of countries that still maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, though the Pope is trying to heal a decades-old rift with China where Catholics are divided between those loyal to him and those who are members of a government-controlled official church.

Tsai said she sought to heed the Pope’s words of peace.

“As the first female president in the ethnic Chinese world, I aspire to live up to your words as I devote myself to enhancing the well-being of the Taiwanese people and creating a new era for cross-strait peace.”

There was no immediate response from China to Tsai’s comments.

But speaking earlier at a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying again rounded on Taiwan for sending a delegation to Trump’s Friday inauguration.

“The aim is to use this as an opportunity to interfere in and damage Sino-US relations,” she said.

Taiwan’s policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said it hoped China would not “intentionally seek to suppress normal interactions” between Taiwan and the United States.

Underscoring the recent tension between China and Taiwan, Japanese Self-Defense Forces will carry out a tabletop exercise next week simulating a military clash between China and Taiwan, under which Japan’s military will rescue Japanese citizens and protect U.S. military ships, a source told Reuters in Tokyo.

Chinese spokeswoman Hua said Taiwan was in internal affair for China and Japan should speak and act cautiously on the issue.

Additinal reporting by Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina in Beijing, and Nobuhiro Kubo in Tokyo; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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