17 November 2018
Incoming Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen has her work cut out for her over tightening cross-strait relations. Photo: CNSA
Incoming Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen has her work cut out for her over tightening cross-strait relations. Photo: CNSA

Beijing steps up pressure on Taipei before Tsai takes office

China is stepping up pressure on self-ruled Taiwan a month before the inauguration of a president from a pro-independence party.

That signals a rocky start for incoming president Tsai Ing-wen, who was elected by a landslide in January, Reuters reports.

In the past few weeks, Beijing has established ties with former Taiwan ally Gambia, sent a top general to inspect troops based in a frontline province and arrested dozens of Taiwanese from Kenya wanted in China for fraud — a move denounced by Taipei as being more about politics than crime.

Taiwan said a hotline meant to expedite direct communication between the top government officials dealing with each other’s affairs had not been answered by China twice at critical times of late.

China regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary and wants the new government to stick to the “one China” policy agreed upon with the outgoing China-friendly Nationalist government.

Only 22 countries recognise Taiwan, with most, including Kenya, having diplomatic relations with China.

Since Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party won Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide in January, Beijing has repeatedly warned it will be watching closely what she does. Tsai takes office on May 20.

At risk are ties that had warmed considerably when Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalists was elected Taiwan president in 2008, ushering in regular high-level exchanges and overseeing the signing of a series of landmark economic deals.

Chen Qinhao, a Taiwan expert at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University, wrote in the official People’s Daily this week that Tsai risks ending lines of communication between China and Taiwan if she does not explain her policy on China.

“It won’t be a matter of there being a ‘high season’ or a ‘low season’ in cross-Taiwan Strait relations,” Chen wrote.

The island’s normally secretive top security agency said the Gambia move was to pressure Tsai to “fall in line with China’s expectations” once in office.

Throughout, Tsai, who has said she wants peace with China and to maintain the status quo, has spoken only via her Facebook or through her party.

“Beijing has no right to represent us on matters involving the deportation of Taiwanese,” she wrote on Facebook last week about the forcible deportation of Taiwan nationals to China from Kenya, even as her top national security adviser called China’s move “completely unhelpful” for ties between the two sides.

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