HONIARA, August 25 -- In June, then newly elected Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare announced that the Pacific nation would decide within 100 days whether to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.
Solomon Islands has been allied with Taiwan since 1983, and with a population of just over 600,000, it is the largest of the six Pacific states that recognize the self-governed island, which China considers a renegade province. However, with the 100-day deadline soon approaching, the islands' government appears more torn than ever over the impending decision, and lawmakers say the final call could be postponed for months. Opposition leader Matthew Wale told Kyodo News that while the decision of whether to switch ties lies entirely with the government, he understands that an outcome "will maybe be reached by November." Wale's comments come as former Prime Minister and current Minister for National Planning and Aid Coordination Rick Houenipwela told Radio New Zealand that a vote in parliament would not happen at all this year. Houenipwela was one of 16 pro-government lawmakers who on Wednesday publicly announced their strong support for the Solomon Islands remaining with Taiwan, citing fears of "debt-trap diplomacy" with which China's Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative is often associated. "We state very clearly that we will not support any policy to change Solomon Islands diplomatic ties from Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People's Republic of China (PRC)," the statement, published on the Solomon Business Magazine Facebook page, read. "We believe the long term interests of our country -- in terms of our development aspirations, as well as respect for democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, human dignity, and mutual respect -- lie with Taiwan, not the PRC," it said. Signatories to the letter account for over half of government ministers, including Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele and Deputy Prime Minister John Maneniaru. The prime minister is also understood to continue to "cherish Solomon Islands relations with Taiwan," according to the letter.
TAIPEI, August 24 -- A US Navy ship passed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, only three days after the US government approved an US$8 billion arms sale to the island’s military.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that the transport landing ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a south-to-north direction, adding that the military has been keeping close watch on the situation so the Taiwanese public should rest assured. The passage of a US Navy vessel through the strait was the seventh of this year, and the first since the US government officially notified Congress on Tuesday of the proposed sale of the F16 fighter jets to Taiwan. That move added to already tense relations between Beijing and Washington and Beijing threatened to take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its interests, including sanctioning the US companies involved in the arms sale. Taiwan’s air force hopes to receive the 66 advanced variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon multi role fighter by 2026. It is expected to use them to replace its ageing fleet of F-5E fighters at a base in Taitung county, eastern Taiwan. The F-16 is one of the mainstay fighters of the air force, the others being the Indigenous Defence Fighter, or IDF, and the Mirage 2000. Taiwan already has a fleet of F-16s, which are undergoing upgrades. The air force took possession of its first four upgraded F-16s in April. The Taichung-based Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation hopes to complete the retrofit programme by 2023.
Since 2008, US administrations have notified Congress of more than US$24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including the sale of M1A2 tanks and Stinger missiles valued at US$2.2 billion in the past two months. To date, the Trump administration alone has notified Congress of US$4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of the civil war in 1949. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, insists the self-rule island must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
TAIPEI, August 18 -- Taiwan is speeding up the processing of applications of people from Hong Kong who want to move to the island after seeing a sharp rise in requests since the start of the protests two months ago.
The island – a self-governing democracy – has been one of the most popular destinations for those looking to leave the city amid growing concerns for its future. While President Tsai Ing-wen has called for the authorities to provide swift assistance for those seeking to relocate, immigration specialists have advised that it is better to apply through existing channels rather than seek political asylum. According to Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency, the number of Hong Kong people applying to come to the island has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, from 3,677 in 2009 to 6,556 in 2018. In 2009, fewer than 100 people were given residency, but last year that number had risen sharply to 1,267. As of August 11 this year, 2,027 Hong Kong people had applied to live or stay in Taiwan and 1,935 of these applications had been approved – up 14.3 and 14 per cent respectively on the same period last year.
WASHINGTON, August 17 -- U.S. President Donald Trump's administration plans to sell F-16 fighter jets worth $8 billion to Taiwan, lawmakers said Friday, in a move that drew strong protest from China.
The planned sale comes amid stalled trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing and concerns over a potentially violent crackdown by Chinese authorities on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Eliot Engel and Michael McCaul, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the planned sale "sends a strong message about the U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific." It would "help deter China as they threaten our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government," they said in a joint statement. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, condemned the U.S. action as interfering in its internal affairs and undermining Beijing's sovereignty and security interests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying the Taiwan issue involves China's "core interests," and urged the United States to stop arms sales to and military contact with the self-ruled island. "Otherwise, the Chinese side will certainly take countermeasures and the U.S. side will be responsible for all related consequences," Hua was quoted as saying.
HONG KONG, August 12 -- While China might be exploiting fears of a bloody "Tiananmen" crackdown on Hong Kong's protest movement, analysts say the potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences will deter Beijing from any overt boots-on-the ground intervention.
As the clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and police in the former British colony have grown increasingly violent, Beijing's condemnation has become more ominous, with warnings that those who play with fire will "perish by it". At the same time, the military garrison maintained by People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Hong Kong released a video showing an anti-riot drill in which soldiers with assault rifles, armoured personnel carriers and water cannons disperse a crowd of protesters. The images and stepped-up rhetoric have fuelled concerns that Beijing could forcefully step in - fears that some analysts suggest China is actively playing on. "Beijing wants to use the threat of sending in the PLA, or other direct intervention, to try to scare off the protesters," said Mr Ben Bland, research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. "But given the high level of operational risk - and the reputational and economic risks to China - sending in the PLA would be a dangerous move," Mr Bland said. China's brutal 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square resulted in two years of economic near-stagnation as the country became an international pariah. The fallout from any similar intervention in Hong Kong would be far more severe. The long-term stability of the international financial hub is crucial to China's economic well-being, and images of Chinese troops or riot police on the streets would be broadcast and live-streamed around the world. It would also have a major impact on Beijing's ambitions to reunify the mainland with the democratically-governed island of Taiwan. For the moment, China has restricted itself to voicing its total support for the Hong Kong police force.
But while Hong Kong law states that the PLA troops stationed here cannot interfere in local affairs, it does allow for their deployment at the request of the Hong Kong government to "maintain public order". And security experts note that in the 30 years since Tiananmen, China has developed a sophisticated security control apparatus that allows far more options for quelling unrest than simply sending in the tanks. According to analyst Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China learned its lessons from the 1989 crackdown as it conducted numerous "exchanges" with police forces in Europe and the United States. "A large part of this was exchanges on how to deal with political riots and peaceful protests," Mr Wu said. Those methods were on clear display in the PLA garrison drill and another video distributed last week showing thousands of Chinese riot police conducting a similar exercise in Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong. In both videos, security forces in full riot gear and tight formation used tear gas and shields to corral and disperse "protesters" dressed in construction hats and facemasks - reminiscent of demonstrators in Hong Kong. Wile the techniques were modern, Mr Wu stressed that the ability to deploy them effectively in Hong Kong was another matter. "The Chinese regime has no experience of suppressing riots in a free society," he said. And even if it was able to carry off a non-lethal intervention, the optics of Chinese forces in the streets of Hong Kong in any capacity would still provoke near-global concern and outrage.
Political analyst Willy Lam, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, suggested Beijing could consider a more covert method of sending its own troops or police in. "They will be wearing Hong Kong Police uniform so it won't be a formal deployment," Mr Lam said. There have already been rumours that such an exercise is underway, leading the Hong Kong Police to issue a statement last week flatly rejecting "allegations" of mainland reinforcements among their ranks. One of the leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, Wu'er Kaixi, argued that the Chinese leadership was too driven by self-interest to consider any armed intervention. "I believe they have learned the lesson that the price of using the military is very high," he said from Taiwan, where he now lives.
TAIPEI, July 25 -- The US military said on Wednesday it sent a Navy warship through the Taiwan Strait, a move likely to anger China during a period of tense relations between Washington and Beijing.
Taiwan is among a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which include a trade war, US sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols. China on Wednesday warned that it is ready for war if there was any move toward Taiwan’s independence, accusing the United States of undermining global stability and denouncing its arms sales to the self-ruled island. The warship sent to the 112-mile-wide (180km) Taiwan Strait was identified as the USS Antietam. “The (ship’s) transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement. “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.
The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but is likely to be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from US President Donald Trump’s administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing. The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms. China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory. On Wednesday, Chinese Defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a news briefing on a defence white paper, the first like it in several years to outline the military’s strategic concerns, that China would make its greatest effort for peaceful reunification with Taiwan.
TAIPEI, July 22 -- Taiwan's foreign minister on Monday (July 22) called for "genuine" democratic elections to be held in Hong Kong after the city was rocked by fresh political violence, comments that will likely infuriate Beijing.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history by weeks of marches and sporadic violent confrontations between police and pockets of hardcore protesters. The initial protests were lit by a now-suspended Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. But they have since evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters on Sunday night, the seventh weekend in a row that the city has witnessed political violence. Separately masked men wielding sticks beat up anti-government protesters at a subway station, putting dozens in hospital. In a tweet on Monday, Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu said it was time for the city's leaders to grant universal suffrage, a core demand of protesters. "It's sad to see the rule of law eroding and the divide between the people and the government widening in Hong Kong," Wu said as he accompanied President Tsai Ing-wen in a stopover in Denver on their way back from a visit to diplomatic allies in the Caribbean. "The way forward is genuine democratic elections, not violence in the streets & MTR stations. The freedom and human rights of the people must be protected!" he added.
BEIJING, July 11 -- China's Defense Ministry indicated Thursday that it will take reciprocal action to counter the recent U.S. approval to sell weapons to Taiwan.
The Chinese military will "take all necessary measures" to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement, adding that Beijing has already lodged a protest against Washington. The U.S. move "will threaten development of militaries of both counties and damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," the spokesman said, urging the United States to withdraw its plan. The U.S. State Department has approved a planned sale of weapons, including tanks and surface-to-air missiles, to Taiwan for an estimated cost of $2.22 billion, the Defense Department said earlier this week. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has forged close relations with self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province awaiting reunification. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split amid a civil war in 1949. Beijing has since then endeavored to undermine Taipei's quest for international recognition. China has stepped up such efforts, particularly since President Tsai Ing-wen -- who belongs to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party -- came to power in Taiwan in May 2016.
TAIPEI, June 1 -- Balloon sculpture memorializes standoff that millions of mainland Chinese have still never heard about.
An artist has erected an inflatable display in Taiwan’s capital to mark an iconic moment in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests three decades ago. The larger-than-life balloon installation, which stands in front of Taipei’s famous Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, portrays a peaceful encounter between a Chinese civilian and the military tanks that took part in the bloody suppression of the demonstrations in Beijing on June 4, 1989. The tank standoff, memorialised by several photographers including Jeff Widener of The Associated Press, has become a symbol of defiance around the world. Hundreds of people walked by the installation on Saturday morning. Many took selfies and photos of the artwork, which has been up for a few weeks. Public remembrances of the Tiananmen protests are strictly forbidden in mainland China, and Beijing’s army of censors has been working overtime to scrub any references to the event from the Web as the anniversary approaches. But regular commemorations have taken place in democratically governed Taiwan and Hong Kong.
This coming Tuesday marks 30 years since the protests, led by students who were joined by individuals from all walks of life, calling for political reform. China’s ruling Communist Party punishes citizens who dare to speak publicly about the event. While an untold number of people inside China are not even aware that the historic event ever took place, others have learned about it through smuggled DVDs and private conversations as well as using software to scale the Internet firewall. Mikel Zhang, a lawyer from Shanghai who visited the “Tank Man” installation on Saturday morning in Taipei, said that the students’ beliefs were different than those of the government. “But eventually … blood was shed,” he said. An inscription on the artwork says Taiwan stands with the people who have never ceased to resist the “gigantic autocracy”. Taiwan split from mainland China amid civil war in 1949, though Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory.
TAIPEI, May 17 -- Taiwan's parliament has legalized same-sex marriage in a landmark vote that made the self-ruled island the first in Asia to adopt such legislation.
The lawmakers comfortably passed a law on Friday, allowing same-sex couples to form "exclusive permanent unions" and a second clause that would let them apply for a "marriage registration" with government agencies. The vote is a major victory for the island's LGBT community who have campaigned for years to have similar of equal marriage rights as heterosexual couples and places the island at the vanguard of Asia's burgeoning gay rights movement. In recent months conservatives had mobilized to rid the law of any reference to marriage, instead putting forward rival bills that offered something closer to limited same-sex unions. But those bills struggled to receive enough votes. Hundreds of gay rights supporters on Friday gathered despite heavy rain near the parliament building in the capital, Taipei, as legislators were set to vote on a series of bills that could offer same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals. The vote came after Taiwan's top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the constitution. Judges gave the government until May 24 this year to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically. But they gave no guidance on how to do that.