Taiwan’s new President Tsai Ing-wen defied Beijing in her inaugural address on Friday by resisting pressure to adopt the “one-China” principle, drawing a relatively tepid reaction from China.
Pledging to seek peace with China, Tsai, 59, Taiwan’s first female president, said the understanding reached at historic talks in 1992 where the two sides agreed to seek common ground should form one foundation of future ties. Taiwan’s 1946 constitution, which still claims mainland China as part of its territory, should form another, she said.
Wearing a white jacket and black pants, Tsai said she respected the historical fact of the 1992 talks between negotiators from China and Taiwan. The two sides “through communication and negotiations, arrived at various joint acknowledgments and understandings. It was done in a spirit of mutual understanding and a political attitude of seeking common ground while setting aside differences,” she said.
Tsai has previously acknowledged the historical fact of the 1992 meetings before, but China has pressured her to openly affirm its own version—that the 1992 Consensus equates with the one-China principle, and that both sides are part of one country.
Taiwan’s new leader was “ambiguous on the fundamental issue,” China’s official Xinhua News Agency said today, citing the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office. In the same written statement, Beijing said it would boost interactions between the peoples, and work toward the rejuvenation of the Chinese people, but that institutionalized interactions could only continue on the basis of the one-China principle.
Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex index rose 0.4 percent at the close of trading in Taipei, before the Xinhua report was published. The Taiwan dollar strengthened 0.2 percent to NT$32.752 per U.S. dollar.
With the Democratic Progressive Party assuming control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time, Tsai pledged to implement key structural reforms to Taiwan’s economy to help it better integrate with the rest of Asia. Dragged down by slower demand for its products from China and elsewhere in the world, Taiwan has posted three straight quarters of economic contraction.
Since Tsai’s landslide election in January, China has employed a range of tactics to show Taiwan what the future might look like if it refuses to embrace the idea of ’one country’. In March, China scrapped a diplomatic truce with former President Ma Ying-jeou and established relations with the tiny West African nation of Gambia, one of a handful of states that still recognized Taiwan.
In April, a Taiwanese delegation to Brussels was barred from joining a meeting of OECD steel officials because of Chinese objections, when no such objection had arisen in 10 years, the Taipei-based United Evening News reported.
Liu Guoshen, director of Xiamen University’s Taiwan Research Institute, praised Tsai’s address as a mild and practical speech. “You can see Tsai was making a real effort to stabilize the cross-strait ties. She’s trying in her speech to strike a balance in addressing various audience: her own party, Beijing, and the United States,” Liu said.
Today’s inauguration was attended by dignitaries from 59 nations, including Taiwan’s 22 remaining diplomatic allies, and a U.S. delegation led by former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
At the end of her remarks, Tsai made reference to having pride in Taiwan’s democratic achievements: “Today, tomorrow, and on every day to come, we shall all vow to be a Taiwanese who safeguards democracy, freedom, and this country.”