Taiwan urged China to stay calm today after the Taiwanese leader’s unprecedented phone call to US President-elect Donald Trump angered Beijing, as residents and analysts in Taipei expressed fears at the possible fallout. Ties between Taipei and Beijing have grown increasingly frosty since China-sceptic Tsai Ing-wen took power in Taiwan in May, ending eight years of cross-strait rapprochement. Beijing has since cut off all official communication with the self-ruled island, which it still views as part of its territory.
Tsai’s call on Friday was the first between a Taiwanese leader and an incoming or serving US president since Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. China has protested to Washington at Trump’s breach. The incoming president responded with a Twitter broadside accusing China of currency manipulation and militarising the South China Sea.
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On Monday Taiwan’s China affairs minister Chang Hsiao-yueh urged Beijing to consider the matter with a “calm attitude”. “The government values ties with (China) and the president has reiterated time and again that Taiwan will not go back to the old way of confrontation… I don’t think there is an act of provocation,” she told reporters.
Tsai herself has made no comment but the presidential office has insisted there is “no conflict” between Taiwan maintaining relations with the US and with China. In Taipei some said they now fear a Beijing backlash. “I doubt that a short phone call will help Taiwan that much in the long-term, but it will infuriate China and they will likely take vengeful moves against Taiwan,” said receptionist Hu Chi-hui, 38.
Saleswoman Ho Li-chin, 43, said she fears China will try to isolate Taiwan even more in the international community. Political analysts said Tsai was gambling that the call would increase her bargaining power with Beijing. Fan Shih-ping of the National Taiwan Normal University, said Tsai wanted to show Beijing that “giving Taiwan the cold shoulder would drive it further towards the US”.
But as she battles falling approval ratings at home over domestic issues, observers agreed the move was unlikely to significantly improve her popularity — and could damage it further. “Beijing will not leave the matter at that and this could do Tsai more harm than good, such as prompting Beijing to get Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to switch recognition,” said Tang Shao-cheng, a political scientist at the National Chengchi University.