Taiwan leader rejects China’s ‘one country, two systems’ offer

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s president rejected on Thursday a “one country, two systems” formula that Beijing has suggested could be used to unify the island and the mainland, saying such an arrangement had set Hong Kong “on the edge of disorder”.

President Tsai Ing-wen also vowed in a National Day speech to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, saying her government would safeguard freedom and democracy as Beijing ramps up pressure on the self-ruled island it considers a wayward province.

Tsai, who is seeking re-election in January amid criticism of her policy towards China, referred to the arrangement for the return of the former British colony of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 as a failure.

Hong Kong has been hit by months of anti-government protests triggered by widespread resentment of what many city residents see as relentless efforts by Beijing to exert control of their city despite the promises of autonomy.

China has proposed that Taiwan be brought under Chinese rule under a similar arrangement, but Tsai said Beijing’s policies towards the island were a danger to regional stability.

“China is still threatening to impose its ‘one country, two systems’ model for Taiwan. Their diplomatic offensives and military coercion pose a serious challenge to regional stability and peace,” Tsai said.

“When freedom and democracy are challenged, and when the Republic of China’s existence and development are threatened, we must stand up and defend ourselves,” Tsai said, referring to Taiwan by its official name.

“The overwhelming consensus among Taiwan’s 23 million people is our rejection of ‘one country, two systems,’ regardless of party affiliation or political position.”

Taiwan’s National Day, marking the anniversary of the start of a 1911 uprising that led to the end of dynastic rule in China and the founding of a republic, was celebrated in Taipei with singing, dancing and parades.

Cold War hostility between the island and the mainland had eased over the past decade or so as both sides focused more on expanding business ties, but relations have cooled considerably since Tsai took office in 2016.

China suspects Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party of pushing for the island’s formal independence, and this year threatened it with war if there was any such move.

Tsai denies seeking independence and reiterated that she would not unilaterally change the status quo with China.

FLASHPOINT

Despite her assurances, Beijing has stepped up pressure on the island to seek “reunification” and backed up its warnings by flying regular bomber patrols around it.

Beijing also says Taiwan does not have the right to state-to-state relations and is keen to isolate it diplomatically.

Seven countries have severed diplomatic ties with the Taiwan and switched allegiance to Beijing since Tsai coming to power. It now has formal diplomatic ties with just 15 nations.

But Tsai said Taiwan was undaunted.

“The determination of the Taiwanese people to embrace the world has never wavered,” she said, adding that Taiwan must work with “like-minded countries” to ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Tsai said under her watch Taiwan has boosted its combat capabilities with the purchase of advanced weapons and development of home-made aircraft.

Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade in August, aiming to purchase more advanced weapons from overseas.

The island has long been a flashpoint in the U.S.-China relationship.

In July, the United States approved the sale of an $2.2 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan, angering Beijing.

The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robeert Birsel)

Taiwan says China meddling with elections after Solomon Islands cuts ties

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan accused China on Monday of trying to influence its presidential and legislative elections after the Solomon Islands cut off ties with Taipei.

The Solomon Islands was the sixth country to switch allegiance to China since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan in 2016. Its decision on Monday dealt her a new blow in her struggle to secure re-election in January amid criticism of her handling of Beijing and rising tension with China.

Self-ruled Taiwan now has formal relations with only 16 countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.

China claims Taiwan as its territory and says it has no right to formal ties with any nation.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Tsai said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure, describing the Solomon Islands’ decision as new evidence that Beijing is trying to meddle in the January elections.

“Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan’s international space,” Tsai said, calling the Chinese move “a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order.”

“I want to emphasize that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, said Taipei would immediately close its embassy in the Solomon Islands and recall all its diplomats.

“The Chinese government attacked Taiwan purposely before our presidential and legislative elections, obviously aiming to meddle with the voting. The government strongly condemns this and urges people to hold on to its sovereignty and the value of freedom and democracy,” said Wu, whose resignation was rejected by Tsai.

“Taiwan has never bowed to pressure from one single setback, and it won’t be defeated by this blow,” Wu said, urging support from allies in the region to defend Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

“AT ANY COST”

China has been trying to secure allies from Taiwan, and Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Panama and El Salvador had already cut off ties with Taipei.

Beijing has stepped up pressure to squeeze the island, which have included regular Chinese bomber patrols around Taiwan, since Tsai took office. China suspects Tsai of pushing for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

Tsai said the Chinese move could be an “attempt to divert attention” from months of protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, and that China was forcing Taiwan to accept a formula similar to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” arrangement, which guarantees certain freedoms.

“I am confident that the 23 million people of Taiwan have this to say in response: not a chance.”

A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters Beijing had issued an “urgent order” to secure the Solomon Islands’ allegiance “at any cost” on Sunday night, and called it a move to distract domestic attention from the Hong Kong issue before the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China on Oct. 1.

The protests in Hong Kong pose the biggest challenge for Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

The source said the rupture in ties had prompted expressions of concern from countries including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, who had been involved in efforts to help Taiwan secure ties with the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands’ decision followed a months-long review of the pros and cons of a switch to Beijing, which was offering $8.5 million in development funds to replace support from Taiwan.

In a cabinet vote on Monday, there were 27 votes to shift ties and six abstentions, creating an “overwhelming” majority, a Solomon Islands member of parliament told Reuters. The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to questions.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blencher in BEIJING and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Democratic, Republican lawmakers back $8 billion F-16 sale to Taiwan

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter taking part in the U.S.-led Saber Strike exercise flies over Estonia June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

By Bryan Pietsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congress should move quickly with an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” over the region, leading U.S. Democratic and Republican lawmakers said on Friday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, said in a statement that he welcomed the sale of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-16 jets to boost Taiwan’s “ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which he said is “under increasing pressure” from China.

The deal “sends a strong message” about U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the region, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot and Michael McCaul, the panel’s ranking Republican, said in a joint statement.

They said the move will deter China as Beijing threatens “our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government.”

The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-governed island under its control.

Senator Marco Rubio urged Congress to move forward with the deal, which he said in a statement is “an important step in support of Taiwan’s self-defense efforts” as China “seeks to extend its authoritarian reach” in the region.

Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that it is critical “now more than ever” for Taiwan to boost its defense capabilities.

After the United States approved sales of tanks and Raytheon Co’s <RTN.N> anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Taiwan in July, China said it was “ready to go to war” if people “try to split Taiwan from the country.”

Beijing said it would impose sanctions on U.S. companies involved in any deals. The United States and China are embroiled in a wider trade war.

On Thursday, Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade, to T$411.3 billion ($13.11 billion.)

The United States has no formal ties with self-ruled and democratic Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself. China has repeatedly denounced U.S. arms sales to the island.

(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

China warns of war in case of move toward Taiwan independence

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds flags of Taiwan and the United States in support of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen during an stop-over after her visit to Latin America in Burlingame, California, U.S., January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – China warned on Wednesday that it was 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 Pentagon said this month the U.S. State Department had approved sales of weapons requested by Taiwan, including tanks and Stinger missiles estimated to be worth $2.2 billion.

China responded by saying it would impose sanctions on U.S. firms involved in any deals.

Defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a news briefing on a defense 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.

“However, we must firmly point out that seeking Taiwan independence is a dead end,” Wu said.

“If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country, China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity,” he said.

The United States is the main arms supplier to Taiwan, which China deems a wayward province. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

The United States has no formal ties with democratic Taiwan, but is bound by law to help provide it with the means to defend itself.

The Chinese ministry said the United States had “provoked intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure … and undermined global strategic stability.”

‘MALICIOUS ACTS’

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said later in a statement that Beijing’s “provocative behavior … seriously violated the peace principle in international laws and relations, challenging regional safety and order”.

“We urge Beijing authorities to renounce irrational, malicious acts such as the use of force, and to improve cross-strait relations and handle issues including Hong Kong rationally so that it can be a responsible regional member,” it said.

In Beijing, asked how China’s military would handle escalating protest violence in Hong Kong’s widening crisis over a controversial extradition bill, Wu referred only to the territory’s garrison law, which he said “already has a clear stipulation”.

That law states that the Hong Kong government can request the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison’s assistance to maintain public order.

But legal scholars say it is a very high threshold, and some retired security officials say any involvement by PLA units in Hong Kong security would shatter the “one country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony returned to China in 1997.

Wu also said reports of a secret pact with Cambodia granting China’s armed forces exclusive access to part of the Southeast Asian nation’s Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand were “not in accordance with the facts”.

“China and Cambodia have in the past carried out positive exchanges and cooperation on military drills, personnel training and logistics,” he said. “This kind of cooperation does not target any third party.”

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

Taiwan president in U.S. after warning of threat from ‘overseas forces’

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen arrives at the hotel where she is supposed to stay during her visit in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Michelle Nichols and Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in the United States on Thursday on a trip that has angered Beijing, warning that democracy must be defended and that the island faced threats from “overseas forces,” in a veiled reference to China.

China, which claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and views it as a wayward province, had called on the United States not to allow Tsai to transit there on her overseas tour.

Tsai is spending four nights in the United States – two on the first leg and two on the way back from a visit to four Caribbean allies. She began her trip in New York and is expected to stop in Denver on her way back.

Shortly before Tsai was due to arrive at her Manhattan hotel, a Reuters photographer witnessed a brawl at the hotel’s entrance between dozens of pro-China and pro-Taiwan protesters, which was eventually broken up by police.

The New York Police Department was not immediately able to comment on whether there had been any arrests.

Tsai was last in the United States in March, but her stops this time will be unusually long, as normally she spends just a night at a time in transit.

The U.S. State Department has said there had been no change in the U.S. “one-China” policy, under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.

However, analysts said the extended stopovers served to emphasize the Trump administration’s support for Tsai at a time when she has been coming under increasing pressure from Beijing, a major U.S. security rival with which Washington has been engaged in a year-long trade war.

Speaking before departure at Taipei’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Tsai said she would share the values of freedom and transparency with Taiwan’s allies, and was looking forward to finding more international space for Taiwan.

“Our democracy has not come easily and is now facing threats and infiltration from overseas forces,” Tsai said, without being specific.

“These challenges are also common challenges faced by democracies all over the world,” she said. “We will work with countries with similar ideas to ensure the stability of the democratic system.”

CARIBBEAN STOPS

Taiwan has been trying to shore up its diplomatic alliances amid pressure from China. Taipei now counts only 17 countries as diplomatic allies, almost all small Central American, Caribbean or Pacific nations.

Tsai will be visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti on her overseas tour.

In New York, Tsai will meet with members of the Taiwanese community and U.N. ambassadors of allied countries.

The State Department described Tsai’s visit as “private and unofficial” and said she would be greeted in New York by James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei. It did not respond when asked if Tsai would have contact with any other U.S. officials.

Seeking to bolster Taiwan’s defenses, the United States this week approved an arms sale worth an estimated $2.2 billion for Taiwan, despite Chinese criticism.

Tsai, who is up for re-election in January, has repeatedly called for international support to defend Taiwan’s democracy in the face of Chinese threats. Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on drills in the past few years.

Douglas Paal, who served as U.S. representative to Taiwan from 2002 to 2006, said Tsai’s extended stopovers showed U.S. approval for the “caution and restraint” she had shown in her dealings with Beijing.

“It makes sense to reinforce that with generous transit treatment,” he said. “This is also … a message to China. The U.S. government believes Tsai is behaving responsibly in respecting the framework of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations.”

Paal said the Trump administration had yet to indicate a significant shift in the traditional U.S. approach to Taiwan, but this could change in the event of a deterioration of U.S. relations with Beijing.

“It’s like an engine running at a high idle,” he said. “Trump has not engaged the gears, but there is a lot of activity at lower levels seeking to upgrade relations. So change has not occurred in a big way yet, but it could happen at any time. With unpredictable consequences.”

(Reporting by I-Hwa Cheng; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and David Brunnstrom in Washington; writing by Ben Blanchard; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

Hong Kong pushes bill allowing extraditions to China despite biggest protest since handover

Riot police officers stand guard outside the Legislative Council during a protest to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill with China in Hong Kong, China, early June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Pete

By James Pomfret and Farah Master

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vowed on Monday to push ahead with amendments to laws allowing suspects to be extradited to mainland China a day after the city’s biggest protest since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Riot police ringed Hong Kong’s legislature and fought back a hardcore group of several hundred protesters who stayed behind early on Monday after Sunday’s peaceful march that organizers said drew more than a million people, or one in seven of the city’s people.

“I don’t think it is (an) appropriate decision for us now to pull out of this bill because of the very important objectives that this bill is intended to achieve,” a somber Lam told reporters while flanked by security and justice chiefs.

“While we will continue to do the communication and explanation there is very little merit to be gained to delay the bill. It will just cause more anxiety and divisiveness in society.”

The protests plunged Hong Kong into a political crisis, just as months of pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations did in 2014, heaping pressure on Lam’s administration and her official backers in Beijing. Chants echoed through the high-rise city streets on Sunday calling on her to quit. “Extradite yourself, Carrie!,” one placard read.

The rendition bill has generated unusually broad opposition, from normally pro-establishment businesspeople and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups who fear further erosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring even basic judicial protections in mainland China.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China under a “one country, two systems” formula with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.

But many accuse China of extensive meddling in many sectors, denying democratic reforms and squeezing freedoms, interfering with local elections and the disappearances of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders. All later appeared in detention in China, and some appeared in apparently forced confessions broadcast in Hong Kong.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that Beijing would continue to support the extradition bill.

“We resolutely oppose wrong words and actions by any foreign forces to interfere in the legislative matters of the Hong Kong SAR,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region”.

An official newspaper in China, where the Communist Party holds sway over the courts, said: “some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign”.

The proposed changes provide for case-by-case extraditions to jurisdictions, including mainland China, beyond the 20 states with which Hong Kong already has treaties.

It gives the chief executive power to approve an extradition after it has been cleared by Hong Kong’s courts and appeal system.

PEOPLE “TREASURE AUTONOMY”

Lam said last month that, after feedback from business and other groups, only suspects facing more serious crimes, or those normally dealt with by Hong Kong’s High Court, with a minimum punishment of at least seven years, rather than the three years, would be extradited.

She said that extradition requests from China could only come from its highest judicial body, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, rather than any provincial authorities.

A U.S. official said Washington was monitoring the situation closely, noting that it called into question Hong Kong people’s confidence in the future of “one country, two systems”.

“It shows how much Hong Kong people treasure their autonomy and how much they want it to continue,” the official said.

Tara Joseph, president of the local American Chamber of Commerce, said the credibility of Hong Kong was on the line.

“The passage of this bill comes at the expense of the business community and we fear business confidence will suffer,” she said.

Hong Kong leader Lam sought to soothe public concerns and said her administration was creating additional amendments to the bill, including safeguarding human rights.

“This bill is not about the mainland alone. This bill is not initiated by the central people’s government. I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she told reporters.

She said the bill would be put for debate on Wednesday as planned in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council which is now controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.

Lam and her officials stress the need for haste to prosecute a young Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. But Taiwanese officials say they won’t agree to any transfer if the bill goes ahead, citing rights concerns.

In Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province, President Tsai Ing-wen said on her FaceBook page: “We support the people of Hong Kong’s search for freedom, democracy and human rights.”

Beijing officials have increasingly defended Lam’s plan, couching it as a sovereign issue. A retired senior mainland security official said in March that Beijing had already had a list of 300 mainland criminals it wanted back from Hong Kong.

Organizers put the size of Sunday’s crowd at more than a million, outstripping a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 took to the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.

Police put the figure at 240,000 at the march’s peak.

About 1,000 people joined a protest in Sydney and another protest was also reported in London.

U.S. and European officials have issued formal warnings, matching international business and human rights lobbies that fear the changes will dent Hong Kong’s rule of law.

Guards removed damaged barricades from the front of the Legislative Council building during Monday’s morning rush hour and cleaning staff washed away protest debris. All but one protester were cleared from the area.

Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao said in an editorial the government should take the protesters seriously and that pushing the legislation forward would exacerbate tensions.

(Reporting by Vimvam Tong, Anne Marie Roantree, James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Clare Jim, Sumeet Chatterjee, Jessie Pang, Shellin Li, Forina Fu, Donny Kwok, Aleksander Solum and Twinnie Siu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Farah Master and Greg Torode.; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. ‘playing with fire’ on Taiwan, China says ahead of defense meeting

FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States is “playing with fire” with its support for self-ruled Taiwan, China said on Thursday, in angry comments ahead of a meeting between Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

The two countries, locked in an escalating trade war, are also at odds over a series of strategic issues, from the disputed South China Sea to democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Wei and Shanahan – who on his first day as acting defense secretary in January said the U.S. military would focus on “China, China, China” – are both attending the annual Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore which begins on Friday, where they are expected to meet.

China has been particularly incensed by recent U.S. Navy patrols in the Taiwan Strait, U.S. legislation in support of Taiwan and a meeting between Taiwan’s national security chief David Lee and White House national security adviser John Bolton.

Speaking at a regular monthly news briefing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian described military ties between Beijing and Washington as generally good.

But he took a much darker tone when asked about U.S. support for Taiwan, an issue China has long described as the most sensitive in relations between the two countries.

“Recently, the U.S. sides has been continually playing the ‘Taiwan card’, trying in futile to ‘use Taiwan to control China’. This is deluded,” Wu said.

“The series of actions the U.S. side has taken is playing with fire, seriously harms the development of military relations between China and the United States, and seriously harms peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait area.”

Taiwan’s air, sea and land forces conducted an exercise to repel an invading force on Thursday, as its defense minister pledged to defend the island against what it sees as China’s rising military threat.

Washington has no formal ties with U.S. ‘playing with fire’ on Taiwan, China says ahead of defense meeting but is its most important international supporter and main supplier of arms.

A senior U.S. defense official said the fact that Shanahan was going to the Shangri-la dialogue during a period of tension with Iran was a sign that the United States was committed to the region and its allies.

During a meeting with Wei, Shanahan is expected to bring up better communication between the two militaries to avoid the risk of miscalculation, the U.S. official said.

While Wei will likely tackle the Sino-U.S. trade dispute and the hardening Trump administration approaches to Taiwan and the South China Sea, Asian states will be looking for calming messages, according to security experts and regional diplomats.

“Regional countries will be expecting reassurances that China’s intentions are in fact peaceful given its growing military might,” said Singapore-based regional security analyst Ian Storey. Storey, of Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, said Wei must also speak to his domestic constituents, given the fact his address and a rare question-and-answer session are expected to be shown prominently in China.

“In the current environment maybe they won’t want him to be too accommodating. He can be expected to blame the U.S. for growing tensions in the South China Sea and there is no way he is going to admit that China is part of the problem.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Idrees Ali in Washington)

China warns pig trade against African swine fever cover-ups as Taiwan concerns grow

Pork for sale is seen at a market in Beijing, China December 26, 2018. Picture taken December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China has warned the country’s pork industry that covering up cases of African swine fever is a crime, days after a dead pig was found on a Taiwanese beach prompting Taipei to claim Beijing was not sharing accurate information on the disease.

China’s animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau is stepping up investigation and punishment of illegal activity in the pig industry, said a statement published on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs website on Friday.

Failing to report deaths and privately slaughtering and selling sick or dead pigs would be pursued under criminal law, it said, and compensation of 1,200 yuan ($175) for each pig culled was sufficient incentive for farmers to report the disease.

In the worst epidemic of the disease ever seen, China has confirmed about 100 cases of African swine fever across 23 provinces since August last year. The disease, for which there is neither cure nor vaccine, is deadly to pigs but does not harm people.

But many experts believe it is even worse than has been reported, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen urged Beijing last month to “not conceal” information about the disease.

Tsai raised the issue again in a New Year’s speech after a dead pig was found on a beach on Taiwan’s Kinmen island, a half-hour ferry ride from the east coast of China. The pig has since been confirmed to have the African swine fever virus, while another dead pig was found on a nearby island on Friday, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.

“During our recent efforts to prevent an African swine fever epidemic, China’s government has never followed the relevant agreements and provided Taiwan with accurate, real-time reports about the epidemic situation,” she said.

China has repeatedly said that the disease has been effectively dealt with and is under control. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on Friday.

The dead animals found on the Taiwanese islands have stoked fears that Taiwan’s pigs could soon become infected with the disease.

Taiwan’s herd of 5.39 million pigs is tiny compared with China’s 700 million, but pork is the most popular meat in both places and domestic production in Taiwan reduces its need for imports of the staple meat.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING and Yi-Mou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

U.S. warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Yimou Lee, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in the second such operation this year, as the U.S. military increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further heightening tensions with China but will likely be viewed in self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from President Donald Trump’s government amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

Reuters was first to report U.S. consideration of the sensitive operation on Saturday.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said it closely monitored the operation and was able to “maintain the security of the seas and the airspace” as it occurred.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province of “one China”, had already expressed “serious concern” to the United States, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Tuesday.

“The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territory, and is the most important, most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations,” she said.

China urged the United States to cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to promote peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, she added.

The U.S. Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait’s international waters in July, which had been the first such voyage in about a year. The latest operation shows the U.S. Navy is increasing the pace of strait passages.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

STATUS QUO?

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island. It raised concerns over U.S. policy toward Taiwan in talks last week with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore.

As the United States prepared for a fresh passage through the strait, it told China’s military that its overall policy toward Taiwan was unchanged.

Mattis delivered that message to China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe personally on Thursday, on the sidelines of an Asian security forum.

“Minister Wei raised Taiwan and concerns about our policy. The Secretary reassured Minister Wei that we haven’t changed our Taiwan policy, our one China policy,” Randall Schriver, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense who helps guide Pentagon policy in Asia, told reporters traveling with Mattis.

“So it was, I think, a familiar exchange.”

Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

Taiwan’s relations with China have deteriorated since the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party swept to power in 2016.

Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, responded to the July passage with a warning to the United States to avoid jeopardizing “peace and stability” in the strategic waterway.

It has also viewed U.S. overtures toward Taiwan with alarm, including its unveiling a new de facto embassy in Taiwan and passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages U.S. officials to visit the island.

Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China’s favor in recent years, and China could easily overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to Taiwan’s aid.

China has also alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Lee Chyen Yee in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra, Bill Berkrot and Nick Macfie)

U.S. approval of $330 million military sale to Taiwan draws China’s ire

Taiwan Air Force's F-16 fighter jets fly during the annual Han Kuang military exercise at an army base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, July 4, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick Lin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million, prompting China to warn on Tuesday that the move jeopardized Sino-U.S. cooperation.

U.S. military sales to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, is an irritant in the relations between the world’s two largest economies. Taiwan would still need to finalize details of the sale with U.S. companies.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient, which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement issued on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were a serious breech of international law and harmed Chinese sovereignty and security interests.

FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China strongly opposes the planned arms sales and has already lodged “stern representations” with the United States, he told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China urges the United States to withdraw the planned sale and stop military contacts with Taiwan, to avoid serious harm to both Sino-U.S. cooperation in major areas, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Geng added.

China’s Defense Ministry, in a separate statement, also condemned the planned sale, adding that the Chinese military had a “firm and unshakable” resolve to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward Taiwan, which is equipped with mostly U.S.-made weaponry and wants Washington to sell it more advanced equipment, including new fighter jets.

In a statement on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Presidential Office thanked the United States for its support and said the island would continue to “stay in close communication and cooperation” with Washington for issues including security.

Military experts said the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted in favor of China, which could probably overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to its aid.

The $330 million request covers spare parts for “F-16, C-130, F-5, Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), all other aircraft systems and subsystems, and other related elements of logistics and program support,” the Pentagon said, adding that it notified Congress of the possible sale. Lockheed Martin Corp makes the F-16.

The Pentagon said the proposed sale is required to maintain Taiwan’s “defensive and aerial fleet,” and would not alter the military balance in the region.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it sees as a wayward province under its control.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a visit to Beijing in June that Beijing was committed to peace, but could not give up “even one inch” of territory that the country’s ancestors had left behind.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; editing by Leslie Adler, Lisa Shumaker &amp; Simon Cameron-Moore)