Taiwan’s President Criticizes China in Speech, Calls for Support for Island

By Eva Dou (Wall Street Journal)

Updated Oct. 10, 2018 3:34 p.m. ET

Beijing says Tsai’s National Day address reveals the ‘evil intentions’ of Western forces

BEIJING—Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen praised the island as a beacon of democracy and urged China to avoid conflict, in a speech Beijing criticized.

In a National Day address on Wednesday, Ms. Tsai called on like-minded nations to support Taiwan, which she described as a democracy standing on the front line of China’s expanding interest. She pledged to increase military spending and ensure the position of Taiwan’s high-tech industry in the global supply chain.

The best way to defend Taiwan, she said, is to “make it indispensable and irreplaceable to the world.”

Though her tone was typically cautious—and she said her government would take no rash actions to provoke Beijing—the address was filled with direct and indirect criticisms of China’s policy toward the self-governed island. Beijing asserts that Taiwan must reunite with the mainland one day and has sought to isolate the island diplomatically.

Some Taiwan media seized on that to draw comparisons to a speech Vice President Mike Pence gave last week criticizing China across the board for trying to undermine U.S. interests.

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, issued harsh criticism of the speech late Wednesday, saying it revealed the “evil intentions” of Western forces, and that any attempt at Taiwan independence was doomed to fail.

“The speech will only aggravate relations between the two sides and bring Taiwan to an even more perilous situation,” he said.

Beijing has increased pressure on Ms. Tsai since her election as Taiwan’s president in 2016. The two governments are heirs to antagonists from China’s civil war last century. Ms. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party has traditionally supported independence for the island’s 23 million people.

‘When the world sees Taiwan’s beauty, Taiwan will not be lonely.’

—Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen

Beijing has tried to undermine her government politically, by peeling away a handful of its dwindling band of diplomatic partners, and economically, by wooing Taiwanese to move and work in the mainland.

In her speech, Ms. Tsai accused China of trying to challenge the status quo—a reference to the renewed efforts by Beijing to poach Taiwan’s diplomatic partners. She said Taiwan’s vibrant democracy would ensure international support.

Beijing has refused to diplomatically recognize any nation that recognizes Taiwan since the split after the civil war, and vice versa.

“Taiwan’s democracy will shine on the world,” she said. “When the world sees Taiwan’s beauty, Taiwan will not be lonely.”

Ms. Tsai’s repeated references to Taiwan’s democracy is likely to reinforce concerns in Beijing that support from Washington is emboldening Taipei in its resistance. Mr. Pence lauded Taiwan last week, saying its “embrace of democracy shows a better path for all Chinese people.”

Kao-cheng Wang, dean of the college of international affairs at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said Ms. Tsai’s speech amounted to a call for support from the U.S. and other countries. “She is presenting the differences between Taiwan and the mainland,” he said. “That includes the value of democracy.”

Mr. Trump has shifted the U.S. toward more overt support for Taiwan. He broke with decades of protocol designed to assuage Beijing when, as president-elect, he spoke with Ms. Tsai by phone. A law passed in March encourages high-level official visits between the U.S. and Taiwan.

The U.S. approved a $330 million arms sale to Taiwan in late September, drawing a warning from Beijing that bilateral cooperation would be affected.

— Yang Jie contributed to this article.

Write to Eva Dou at eva.dou@wsj.com