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Taipei bemoans ‘chess piece’ status ahead of Trump-Xi meeting

Taipei bemoans ‘chess piece’ status ahead of Trump-Xi meeting

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s government, worried about being caught between China and the United States, said yesterday the self-ruled island must protect its own interests as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting of American and Chinese leaders.

“We call on the United States and China, when they improve relations, to not use Taiwan in their own interest or as a chess piece,” Ms Catherine Chang, Taiwan’s minister in charge of China affairs, told reporters.

She urged Beijing to communicate with Taipei “in order to maintain stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region”.

China has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province and has been pressuring Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads an independence-leaning ruling party, to concede Taiwan is a part of China.

The US is Taiwan’s only major political ally and sole arms supplier, and weapons sales to Taiwan have repeatedly upset Beijing.

Ms Chang’s comments come after American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday in Beijing that President Donald Trump anticipates a meeting ‘‘soon’’.

At issue for Taipei is whether a Trump-Xi meeting will harm Taipei’s interests as Washington begins considering a big, new arms package for Taiwan, a move sure to anger China.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said preparatory work for a meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Trump has begun.

She also said China’s resolute opposition to US arms sales to Taiwan was clear and consistent.

“We hope the US fully recognises the high sensitivity and serious harmfulness of US arms sales to Taiwan,” she told a daily news briefing, adding that Washington should handle the Taiwan issue cautiously.

There is contact between Taiwan and the new Trump administration on the arms sale issue, but a specific request list has not been drawn up for this year, though there are pending requests from last year, Taiwanese Defence Ministry official Wu Pao-kun told lawmakers.

“We should seek the greatest advantage in the interaction between the United States and China, to reduce the possibility of Communist China guiding and manipulating the US-China-Taiwan relationship,” said Mr Peng Sheng-chu, chief of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau.

In December, Taiwan had celebrated a diplomatic coup when Mr Trump, as President-elect, took a congratulatory phone call from Ms Tsai and raised questions about whether he would stick with the four-decade-old One China policy.

The American leader later agreed to honour the “One China” policy during a phone call with Mr Xi. REUTERS