Trump’s call inspires hope in Taiwan, concern in Beijing

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks on the phone with US President-elect Donald Trump at her office in Taipei, Taiwan, in this handout photo made available Dec. 3, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 December 2016

Trump’s call inspires hope in Taiwan, concern in Beijing

TAIPEI, Taiwan: With a 10-minute phone call and two tweets, Donald Trump inspired banner headlines and renewed hopes across Taiwan for a stronger partnership with the United States, while also inflaming the complex relationships between the US, mainland China, and the self-governing island China regards as a renegade province.
Whether the US president-elect meant to jump into the generational fight between China and Taiwan remains an open question. But by speaking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, Trump upended four decades of American foreign policy and engaged China directly on the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing has threatened to reclaim by force if necessary. No American president or president-elect has publicly spoken to Taiwan’s leader since the US ended their formal diplomatic relationship in 1979.
Four of his words drew particular attention in Taiwanese newspapers: Trump’s reference, in a follow-up tweet, to Tsai being “the President of Taiwan.”
The phrase is far from benign for China, which regards any reference to a Taiwanese president as an unacceptable acknowledgement of Taiwan’s statehood. Official Chinese pronouncements typically refer to the Taiwanese president as “the Taiwan regional leader.”
Chinese leaders have indicated they dislike Tsai, who was elected in January from a pro-Taiwan independence party and became the island’s first female president. An editorial from the state-run China Daily newspaper admonished Tsai and said the call would “bring nothing substantial but illusionary pride.”
As for Trump, the newspaper said the incident “came as a striking move,” but was not as important as “it seems to be.”
Taiwanese are generally considered to support independence or the status quo, in which China and Taiwan maintain robust social and economic exchanges while the island retains its democracy and de facto independence, over unification with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, has warned that the issue of unification cannot be put off indefinitely.
Yang Chih-kai, a 22-year-old university student at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said Saturday that the call raised Taiwanese hopes for a stronger relationship with the United States.
“People will think that the US will keep on helping Taiwan protect itself against China’s threat,” Yang said.
Chen Chun-hao, a 43-year-old designer, said Trump might “bring more help” to Taiwan now that both sides had opened a dialogue.
“I believe that this could help Taiwan in its international status and its global situation,” Chen said.
Kao-cheng Wang, dean of Tamkang University’s college of international studies, said he believes Trump might increase American military exports to Taiwan, over Beijing’s vociferous opposition, and try to strengthen economic ties between the two sides.
“Trump will not be restricted by the established foreign policy,” Wang said. “The diplomatic policy may be flexible after he takes office.”
China cut off diplomatic contact with Taiwan in June, one month after Tsai took office, accusing her of refusing to endorse the concept that Taiwan is a part of China. Last month, Xi met with Taiwan’s opposition leader, Nationalist Party Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu.
Zhou Qinfen, a retiree from China’s eastern Jiangsu province visiting Beijing on Sunday, echoed several other Chinese interviewed who said they consider Taiwan to be an inextricable part of China.
“If an American president who has only been recently elected starts opposing the unity of China, the people of China will never agree with that,” she said.
The Taiwanese presidential office said Trump and Tsai discussed issues affecting Asia and the future of US relations with Taiwan. Tsai also told Trump that she hoped the US would support Taiwan in its participation in international affairs, the office said, in an apparent reference to China’s efforts to isolate Taiwan from global institutions such as the United Nations.
Taiwan’s presidential office spokesman Alex Huang said separately that Taiwan’s relations with China and “healthy” Taiwan-US relations can proceed in parallel. “There is no conflict (in that),” he told reporters in Taipei on Saturday.
After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwanese leaders Saturday for playing a “small trick,” China said it would issue a diplomatic complaint with Washington.
That is likely only the beginning of China’s response, said Douglas Paal, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which unofficially represents US interests in Taipei.
Wang’s comment “is intended to give time for Trump to back away from or desist from moves to elevate treatment of Taiwan,” said Paal, now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “China will watch carefully to see what he does. But Taiwan will be seen as in need of some form of punishment.”
One potential move for China is to apply new pressure to the 22 states that have formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, Paal said. Most of the world and the United Nations already recognize Beijing as the official government of China.
What happens next will hinge on whether the call is seen as a “complicated accident” or an intentional signal of new policy, Paal said.
“Beijing will watch closely to see which it is,” he said. “But until someone from Trump Tower explains further, it is unknowable.”


India hits 2 million coronavirus cases as health volunteers strike

Updated 34 min 36 sec ago

India hits 2 million coronavirus cases as health volunteers strike

  • Disease trajectory varies widely across India with the burden shifting from cities with relatively robust health systems to rural areas

NEW DELHI: As India hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, crossing 2 million cases and more than 41,000 deaths, community health volunteers went on strike complaining they were ill-equipped to respond to the wave of infection in rural areas.
Even as India has maintained comparatively low mortality rates, the disease trajectory varies widely across the country with the burden shifting from cities with relatively robust health systems to rural areas, where resources are scarce or nonexistent.
The Health Ministry reported 62,538 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s total to 2,027,074. Also, 886 people died, for a total of 41,585.
The ministry said that recoveries were also growing. India has the third-highest caseload in the world after the United States and Brazil. It has the fifth-most deaths but its fatality rate of about 2 percent is far lower than the top two hardest-hit countries. The rate in the US is 3.3 percent, and in Brazil 3.4 percent, Johns Hopkins University figures showed.
The caseload in the world’s second-most populous country has quickly expanded since the government began lifting a months-long lockdown hoping to jump-start a moribund economy. India is projecting negative economic growth in 2020.
Life cautiously returned to the streets of the capital of New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai, which appear to have passed their peaks.
But state and local governments elsewhere in India were reimposing lockdowns after sharp spikes in cases.
Around 900,000 members of an all-female community health force began a two-day strike on Friday, protesting that they were being roped in to help with contact tracing, personal hygiene drives and in quarantine centers, but weren’t given personal protective equipment or additional pay, according to organizer A.R. Sindhu.
The health workers, known as Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA, which means ‘hope’ in several Indian languages, have been deployed in each village on behalf of the Health Ministry. Their work ranges from escorting children to immunization clinics to counseling women on childbirth.
But while their regular work hasn’t reduced, they are increasingly being involved by state governments in the fight against the pandemic, said Sindhu.
“But ASHA workers don’t have masks or PPEs or even sanitizers,” she said.
She added that although the work has increased and become more dangerous, their salaries remain static at roughly 2,000 rupees ($27) per month And the families of at least a dozen women who she said died from the virus didn’t receive compensation from India’s federal insurance for front-line health care workers because their deaths were not recorded as COVID-19 deaths.
Manisha Verma, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.