Tai­wan backs Bri­tish move for mil­i­tary base in South China Sea

The Sunday Telegraph - - World News - By Ni­cola Smith in Taipei

TAI­WAN’S pres­i­dent has sug­gested she would wel­come a Bri­tish mil­i­tary base in the South China Sea as she called for in­ter­na­tional help to de­fend the is­land from re­newed Chi­nese threats.

Tsai Ing-wen’s com­ments yes­ter­day came af­ter Xi Jin­ping, China’s pres­i­dent, warned that Bei­jing re­served the right to use force to bring Tai­wan un­der its con­trol, but would first strive to achieve peace­ful “re­uni­fi­ca­tion”.

Ms Tsai said: “We hope the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity takes it se­ri­ously and can sup­port and help us.” If it did not sup­port a demo­cratic coun­try un­der threat, “we might have to ask which coun­try might be next?” she added.

Tai­wan, a self-ruled democ­racy of 23 mil­lion and a key US ally in the re­gion, is claimed by China. It bor­ders the dis­puted wa­ters of the South China Sea, which car­ries a third of global ship­ping and is the fo­cus of dis­putes be­tween Brunei, China, Tai­wan, Malaysia, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

Bei­jing, which claims the sea in its en­tirety, has alarmed the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with a build-up of mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tions in its wa­ters.

The UK is mak­ing post-Brexit plans to beef up its pres­ence, with Gavin Wil­liamson, the De­fence Sec­re­tary, re­veal­ing to The Sun­day Tele­graph last week that Bri­tain would open a new mil­i­tary base in South East Asia. Asked if she would sup­port a Bri­tish pres­ence, Ms Tsai sig­nalled Tai­wan would wel­come “any ac­tions that will be help­ful to­wards main­tain­ing peace in the South China Sea, as well as main­tain­ing free­dom of pas­sage”.

Mr Wil­liamson has taken a hard line against Bei­jing in the South China Sea, de­ploy­ing Bri­tish war­ships to send the “strong­est of sig­nals” to China on the im­por­tance of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion.

Tai­wan is not for­mally recog­nised by most na­tions, in­clud­ing the UK, but it is of­ten con­sid­ered by the West to be a demo­cratic ally in a volatile re­gion.

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