Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has again indicated her willingness to meet with her mainland counterpart Xi Jinping in a third location when conditions are ripe, such as after her hoped-for re-election next month.

Tsai told reporters while on a stumping tour at the end of last month that despite the smear campaign against her waged by mainland propaganda organs, the only prerequisite for a meeting with Xi would be Beijing’s respect for the island’s sovereignty and security needs – a demand that Xi is unlikely to agree to.

Beijing has all along insisted the self-ruled island is a renegade province of China that must be brought back into the fold, either peacefully or by force.

“To maintain cross-Strait peace and stability, I am willing to try any possible options,” said Tsai, who also stressed during a recent TV interview that she had not ruled out any official or unofficial interactions with Xi or other members of the mainland leadership.

“I think my attitude is consistent,” she said. “We do not provoke, nor will we buckle down under any pressure or coercion. We welcome China to, under no political preconditions, engage in all kinds of communication with us.”

But she dodged questions on whether she would ever visit the mainland or invite Xi to Taiwan.

Analysts say Beijing will have to get to grips with Tsai’s pro-independence policies if she wins another four years in office and formulate its response to her remarks about a possible Tsai-Xi meet.

President Tsai’s predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, with the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, met with Xi in Singapore in 2015, in the first one-on-one talks between the leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in more than half a century, though both Xi and Ma used their party-leader titles to avoid all sensitivities, and the event being interpreted as a state-to-state meeting.

Xi and then Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou met in 2015. Photo: president.gov.tw
Xi and then Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou met in 2015. Photo: president.gov.tw

Ma sought to visit the mainland and Hong Kong after his tenure but was barred from leaving Taiwan by Tsai’s administration on national-security grounds.

US troops welcome in Taiwan

Meanwhile, Taiwanese lawmakers and netizens are prodding the government and Defense Ministry to invite US troops stationed across the Asia-Pacific region to visit the island for rest and relaxation (R&R) during the coming Christmas and New Year break, after Beijing banned all port calls by US warships to Hong Kong in retaliation for the passage and signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The shore-leave invitation, if officially sent, will recommend Taiwanese port cities such as Kaohsiung and Keelung for the Americans to dock their ships and relax at Western-oriented bars and local eateries.

A file photo shows the US Navy’s nuclear-powered supercarrier Ronald Reagan moored in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor during its port call in October 2017. Photo: Xinhua

Hong Kong remains a key logistics node for the United States’ military operations and personnel rotation across Asia and warships ranging from nuclear supercarriers to destroyers and frigates continued to frequent Hong Kong waters after the territory’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. American solders throng bars, restaurants and shopping malls in Hong Kong every time they make landfall.

The city’s defense and military issues are the responsibility of Beijing, which normally approves port calls by US warships unless there is a major row between the two countries.

By comparison, no US warships in active service have entered Taiwan’s littoral waters, though some research vessels of the US Navy make regular visits to Kaohsiung for refueling and crew changes.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, tweeted on Monday that Beijing banning US port calls to Hong Kong “is a perfect opportunity for the US Navy to redirect all scheduled HKG port calls to Kaohsiung.”

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