Taiwan president offers China help to deal with COVID surge

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen offered on Sunday to provide China with “necessary assistance” to help it deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases, but said Chinese military activities near the island were not they were beneficial to peace and stability.

In an abrupt reversal of policy, China last month began dismantling the world’s strictest pandemic regime of lockdowns and extensive testing, meaning COVID-19 is spreading largely unchecked and is likely to infect millions of people through day, according to some international health experts.

Tsai, in her traditional New Year’s message delivered to the presidential office, said everyone had seen the rise in cases in China, which views Taiwan as its own territory and has increased military pressure to enforce those claims.

“As long as there is a need, based on the humanitarian care position, we are ready to provide the necessary assistance to help more people get out of the pandemic and have a healthy and safe new year,” she said, without elaborating.

Taiwan and China have repeatedly discussed their respective measures to control the spread of COVID.

China criticized Taiwan for ineffective management of the pandemic after a surge in domestic infections last year, while Taiwan accused China of lacking transparency and trying to interfere with vaccine supplies to Taiwan, which Beijing has denied.

Tsai reiterated a call for dialogue with China, saying that war was not an option to solve the problems.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his New Year’s address on Saturday night, made only a brief reference to Taiwan, saying that the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait “are members of one and the same family,” and he made no mention of trying to bring the island under Chinese control.

Tsai, responding to reporters’ questions, said she had noted Xi’s “softer” comments.

“But I want to remind people that the People’s Liberation Army’s military activities near Taiwan are in no way conducive to cross-strait relations and regional peace and stability,” he added.

Shortly after Tsai spoke, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said 12 Chinese military aircraft had crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which had previously served as an unofficial buffer between the two sides, in the past 24 hours.

China staged war games near the island in August after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, and those military activities have continued.

Tsai has repeatedly said that he wants talks and peace with China, but Taiwan will defend itself if attacked and only its 23 million people can decide its future. China views Tsai as a separatist and has refused to speak to her.

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