New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is hoping to hold phone talks with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said — a move that would mark the first direct conversation between the neighbors’ two sitting leaders in decades.
Mori, who was visiting Taiwan to attend a memorial service for former President Lee Teng-hui, told Tsai during a televised meeting at the Presidential Office in Taipei on Friday that Suga called him a day earlier to pass on his greetings to the president.
“If there is an opportunity, he would like to speak (with Tsai) over the phone,” Mori told Tsai on Friday, relaying Suga’s message.
Such a call — which would be the first such talks since formal diplomatic ties were severed in 1972 — would almost certainly stoke anger in China. Beijing views self-governed Taiwan as an inherent part of its territory and sees it as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force if necessary. Beijing has frequently targeted Tsai, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, who rejects its view that the island is part of “one China.”
Taiwan has called for an alliance of “like-minded” democracies to defend against “aggressive actions” and protect freedom, alluding to Chinese actions in the South and East China seas and Taiwan Strait as major threats to regional stability.
Tokyo, however, has worked to balance its economic interests and security concerns with Beijing. It’s unclear if this stance may shift under Suga, but he has vowed to work for stability and continuity.
Mori on Saturday attended the memorial service for Lee at a university facility near Taipei, sitting next to Keith Krach, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment. Krach is the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 1979, when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.
Only groups from Japan and the United States were invited as overseas guests for the event, according to media reports
Meanwhile, China sent a total of 19 fighter jets, bombers and intelligence-gathering aircraft across the so-called median line dividing the Taiwan Strait for the second consecutive day Saturday. The warplanes entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, prompting Taipei to scramble fighters in response.
China’s “provocative actions have violated our sovereignty and seriously damaged the status quo of peace and stability in the strait and the region,” the Defense Ministry said.
Chinese state-run media lashed out at the visit by Krach, with the hawkish Global Times on Friday calling the military exercises “rehearsals on taking over Taiwan.”
“The U.S. and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out,” it said.