Taiwan plots independence as Chinese military drill starts

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A file photo of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen delivering a speech on the island's defence policy. Photo: Twitter via Office of President, Taiwan

Taiwanese Premier William Lai has invited further criticism from China by outlining a three-part roadmap for the island’s full independence, declaring his plan to be “pragmatic and achievable”.

It is the second time in two weeks that Lai has given his unequivocal support for a breakaway from China; on April 3 he was labeled “presumptuous and fissiparous” by exasperated Beijing cadres after speaking out at a seminar run by the Ministry of the Interior.

Lai issued his latest proclamation during a media roundtable in the northeastern county of Hualien on Sunday while fielding questions about his claim to be “a political worker for Taiwan independence”.

He said his roadmap would be based on three tenets: that Taiwan had already been a sovereign de facto state and Beijing had never exerted its rule over the island; that only the 23 million Taiwanese had the right and legitimacy to decide the island’s future; and that a more prosperous and liveable Taiwan meant having more leverage and external support in its quest for full independence.

“Working for Taiwan independence means safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty, protecting its freedom, democracy and human rights, and ensuring the public’s right to decide Taiwan’s future, as well as working with Japan, South Korea and the United States to ensure security in Asia-Pacific,” he told Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Taiwanese Premier Lai Ching-te is seen with President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Central News Agency

Premier William Lai (left) with President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Central News Agency

Lai’s declaration coincided with the formation of Formosa Alliance,  which will seek a referendum on the prickly independence issue. The former name of Taiwan, “Formosa” is often associated with calls for Taiwan’s identity and values to be differentiated from those of China.

But Lai has also got under the skin of the island’s hardline separatist cliques – the same political base that ensured victory by his boss Tsai Ing-wen in the 2016 presidental election – after he contradicted himself by admitting he also felt an “affinity toward China”.

China is sending its own message on breakaway efforts by pushing ahead with its first live-fire military drill in the Taiwan Strait since the independence-leaning Tsai took up office. Initial shots will be fired on Wednesday from waters off Fujian by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the provincial maritime agency has warned that vessels entering the designated exercise zone will do so at their own peril.

A spokesperson for the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office spoke sternly last week about Beijing’s “strong determination, confidence and capability to destroy any type of ‘Taiwan independence’ plot and scheme”.

The focuses of the drill will be long-distance attacks and amphibious landing operations, including seizing air superiority, establishing beachheads and launching decapitation attacks on key targets.

These are the military strategies that worry Taiwan the most, Beijing-based Global Times quoted an observer as saying. “Blockading the entire island is likely the main point of the drill,” said the expert.

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Tsai dines with soldiers during a visit to barracks earlier this year. Photo: Twitter

But Tsai does not seem too worred about the fresh around of saber-rattling from the mainland. On Tuesday she will embark on a five-day state visit to the southern African country of Swaziland to celebrate the golden jubilee of diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Tsai has stressed that she has full confidence in the Taiwanese army’s ability to defend the island and respond to any emergency during the PLA drill. She has no intention of postponing the visit.

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