Don't give China excuse to attack Taiwan during virus outbreak, ministry advisers say

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan should continue to show goodwill to China during the outbreak of the new coronavirus and not give Beijing an excuse to attack the island as a way of relieving “internal pressure”, advisers to Taiwan’s China-policy making body said.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has repeatedly lambasted Beijing over the virus, worsening already poor ties, even as President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials have offered to help China fight the outbreak.

Much of the anger has been focused on China blocking Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Organization, with the island accusing China of passing on wrong information to the body about the numbers of infected in Taiwan and of not allowing the island to get the most up to date details on the virus.

While China has denied Taiwan’s accusations, it has stepped up military pressure on Taipei. Earlier this month, Taiwan twice scrambled fighter jets to intercept Chinese air force aircraft which approached the island. [nL4N2AB0RM]

Late on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, in minutes from a recent meeting of advisers, said “popular sentiment” on both sides of the Taiwan Strait had risen as a result of the virus.

“The academics believe that there is no room for ambiguity across the Taiwan Strait, and suggests the government maintain its current policy position, strive to participate in the WHO and show goodwill to mainland Chinese suffering from the virus,” the council said.

“Additionally, minor incidents which could touch off a war across the Taiwan Strait should be avoided, that could become a pressure release point for the Chinese Communists to alleviate internal pressure.”

Chinese public opinion believes people in Taiwan lack sympathy about China’s virus outbreak, but that is the result of China’s previous pressure on the island, the council quoted the unnamed academics as saying.

Tsai’s offer in late January to China to provide “necessary assistance” to fight the virus should be “further implemented”, the council said. [nL4N29Z0PD]

“(We) suggest the government continues to reduce the pressure and lower the temperature on the Taiwan Strait issue,” it added.

China believes Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing. She says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.

Taiwan has reported 31 cases of the virus and one death, and has largely suspended travel and tourism links with China to curb its spread.

China has reported more than 78,000 cases and more than 2,700 deaths.

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