SHANGHAI — The Chinese government is accusing the Trump administration of “playing the ‘Taiwan card” and engaging in “a vain plot to suppress China” through recent arms sales and allowing the island’s leader to visit the United States.
This latest outburst came just hours after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York on Thursday, the first of two stopovers in the United States on either side of a trip to the Caribbean. Days earlier, the State Department had approved the sale of $2.22 billion in arms to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province.
Coinciding with a seemingly intractable trade war, these moves create “greater uncertainties for China-U.S. relations,” the People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, said Friday in an editorial bearing the pen name “Zhong Sheng,” under which it opines on foreign policy.
The United States “should immediately cancel the planned arms sale to Taiwan, stop selling weapons to Taiwan and terminate military contact with Taiwan, and exercise caution and prudence when handling Taiwan-related issues to avoid serious damage to China-U.S. relations and cross-strait peace and stability,” the editorial concluded.
It was part of a salvo of commentaries expressing Beijing’s anger over Washington’s accommodation of Taiwan. Other state media outlets lambasted the Trump administration for allowing Tsai to visit the United States.
“Tsai and her team can barely hide their self-satisfied smirks, totally unaware how pathetic it is to wag their tails and beg for attention from their ‘Western masters,’” wrote the editor in chief of the People’s Daily’s overseas edition, Wang Ping.
Tsai is up for reelection next year and is presenting Taiwan under her leadership as a literal island of democracy that can act as a counterpoint to an increasingly repressive and assertive mainland China. This has endeared her to Trump administration officials who are hawkish on China.
Now, Tsai is spending two nights in New York on her way to the Caribbean, and she plans to stop in Denver for another two nights on her way home.
“It’s a pleasure to land in #NewYorkCity to meet with like-minded friends old and new,” she tweeted on her arrival Thursday. “This city has long been a destination for people from all over the world seeking freedom, so it’s a good place to start my Journey of Freedom, Democracy, Sustainability.”
She later tweeted photos of herself, holding a glass of wine and surrounded by diplomats. “I had a wonderful time meeting with our allies’ Permanent Representatives to the #UN,” she wrote. “We toasted to our countries’ friendship and their steadfast support for #Taiwan’s international participation.”
This clearly irked China, as Taiwan is not part of the United Nations and has no official representation at the international body.
“How come Tsai has managed to get such ‘premium privilege’ of staying four nights in the U.S.?” Wang asked in his editorial, alleging that Taiwan had paid well over market price for American weapons earlier in the week.
“Critics in Taiwan point out that this round of arms purchasing, ‘at a sucker's prices’ and ‘squandering taxpayers’ money,’ is just protection money in exchange for a few more nights’ stay for Tsai Ing-wen,” he continued.
The Trump administration’s accommodation of Taiwan has become another sticking point in the increasingly contentious relationship between Beijing and Washington. It began with Donald Trump’s decision to take a phone call from Tsai in December 2016, after he won the presidential election but before he took office.
More recently, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, met with his Taiwanese counterpart, David Lee, at the end of May, according to reports from Taipei. It was the first time the top national security officials of the United States and Taiwan had met since formal diplomatic relations were severed in 1979.
Then, last week, the State Department said it would sell $2.2 billion worth of weapons, including 108 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, to Taiwan to help it “meet current and future regional threats.”
The Chinese military lodged “solemn representations” with the United States in protest over the decision, Wu Qian, a spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, said Thursday.
Washington should “stop all forms of military contact with Taiwan so as to avoid further damage to the relations between the two countries and their armed forces,” he said.
Beijing has been issuing thinly veiled threats over recent days. Wu, for example, said China has the capability to “thwart any form of interference by external forces,” and the national tabloid Global Times pointed out that China’s People's Liberation Army “retains ‘liberation’ in its name.”
Taiwan split from China in 1949 when nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled from the Communists led by Mao Zedong and set up a rival government in Taipei. Beijing continues to view Taiwan as a renegade state that will one day return to China.