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Taiwan president angers Beijing with defiant speech

Tsai starts her second term with a pledge to focus on independence, peace and religious freedom

Taiwan president angers Beijing with defiant speech

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen waves while registering as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party 2020 presidential candidate at the party's headquarter in Taipei on March 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has emphasized religious freedom and peace in her inauguration speech for her second term as she delivered a strong program that clearly carved out Taiwan as a separate nation from mainland China.

Religion got only a brief mention but carries huge significance as the Holy See’s diplomats work toward the next phase of their controversial deal with Beijing on bishops due by September.

As Hong Kong continues to come under fire from Beijing, Tsai firmly rejected the notion of a “one country, two systems” framework that has been proposed by Beijing as a method of “reunification.”

Tsai won her second term in the Jan. 12 five-yearly presidential election, gaining a substantial majority in the Legislative Yuan, the island nation’s parliament.

It was a remarkable turnaround from just 12 months earlier when she was languishing badly in the opinion polls. But smart campaigning, a strong policy platform and the turmoil in Hong Kong — when its pro-Beijing government took street protesters head on — all played in her favor, helped by stumbles from her opponent.

By the time the election came around in January, the prospect of any closer ties with the mainland looked like a really bad idea.

“In the face of complex and changing cross-strait circumstances, we have made the greatest effort to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait over the past four years, gaining approval from the international community. We will continue these efforts, and we are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security,” Tsai said in her speech.

“Here, I want to reiterate the words ‘peace, parity, democracy and dialogue.’ We will not accept the Beijing authorities' use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo. We stand fast by this principle.”

China, already furious about Tsai’s re-election, responded with bellicose fury while describing reunification as inevitable.

"We will show no tolerance for any secessionist act and foreign interference," Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, was quoted as saying by state-run Global Times.

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He claimed that Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has “unilaterally destroyed the political foundation for peaceful development between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan."

Tsai has repaid her countrymen for their vote of confidence with her handling of the coronavirus crisis that has been unequalled around the world. Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan has had only 440 cases and seven deaths from the virus.

It has been done without the extreme economy-ravaging lockdowns that have characterized nations such as New Zealand, Australia and Vietnam that have dealt well with the first wave of the virus.

From the Catholic Church’s point of view, Taiwan (formally known as the Republic of China) is also a litmus test for just how far Pope Francis is willing to go in his bid for better relations with the People’s Republic.

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