WASHINGTON (AP) — Taiwan's opposition presidential candidate said that if she comes to power in January elections, her government would have a responsibility to contribute to peace and stability in relations with mainland China.
Tsai Ing-wen also had a few complimentary words on Wednesday for China's leader, Xi Jinping, but she deflected knotty questions on whether she accepts the principle of there being only one China. Beijing has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
Tsai reassured U.S. officials during a visit to Washington that victory for her Democratic Progressive Party won't revive tensions across the Taiwan Strait. China regards Tsai's party with suspicion because of its traditional pro-independence leanings.
The United States, which has legal commitments to help Taiwan maintain the ability to defend itself, has welcomed improved relations in the democratic island's relations with the communist-governed Chinese mainland. The current Taiwanese government has promoted economic cooperation with Beijing, reducing the potential for conflict in a regional hotspot.
Tsai said she wanted to maintain the status quo in Taiwan-China relations, while intensifying Taiwan's military relations with the United States and investing in "credible deterrence." She said peace was in the interests of all parties, including Taiwan, China and the wider Asia region.
"If elected, I will push for peaceful and stable development of cross-Strait relations in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people and the existing constitutional order," she said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. In keeping with the view of many analysts, Tsai said her chances of winning election were better than in 2012, when she lost to the incumbent Ma Ying-jeou.
Tsai is on a 12-day, six-city visit to the United States and has been meeting with Obama administration officials and lawmakers. The State Department has not publicized whom she met from the administration, a sign of the diplomatic sensitivities of visits by Taiwanese officials and politicians to the U.S.
Asked about her impressions of Xi, Tsai said he was a "very determined person." She complimented his anti-corruption drive and said while many view Xi as tough and inflexible, he probably understands Taiwan better than most Chinese leaders because of his previous experience serving as governor of Fujian province, adjacent to the island.
"I hope that with his understanding of the situation in Taiwan and also his understanding of Taiwan as a democracy he's in a position to exercise more flexibility when we are facing differences between us," Tsai said.
China's ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, was critical of Tsai in comments to reporters Tuesday.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying that rather than conducting an "interview test" with the U.S., Tsai should pass the "test" of 1.3 billion Chinese on the mainland by accepting the one-China principle. He accused her of deception by making ambiguous statements on whether she will abandon the goal of independence.