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Taipei to China, US: Don't use us as pawns

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TAIPEI: Taiwan's government, worried about being used as a pawn by China and the United States, said yesterday the self-ruled island must protect its own interests as concerns in Taipei rise ahead of an expected meeting of US and Chinese leaders.

China has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a wayward province, and has been pressuring Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads an independence-leaning ruling party, to concede the island is a part of China.

The US is Taiwan's only major political ally and sole arms supplier.

"We call on the US and China, when they improve relations, to not use Taiwan in their own interest or as a chess piece,"Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council minister Katherine Chang, told reporters.

She urged Beijing to communicate with Taipei "in order to maintain stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region".

The comments come after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday in Beijing that US President Donald Trump anticipates a meeting "soon".

At issue for Taipei is whether a Trump-Xi meeting will harm Taiwan's interests as Washington begins considering a big, new arms package for Taiwan, a move sure to anger China.

"We should seek the greatest advantage in the interaction between the US and China, to reduce the possibility of Communist China guiding and manipulating the US-China-Taiwan relationship," said Mr Peng Sheng-chu, chief of Taiwan's National Security Bureau.

Mr Peng - who was answering questions at a parliamentary session - did not elaborate on what steps Taiwan should take, but said based on the bureau's intelligence, it was not likely that a new communique that could hurt Taiwan's interests would result from their meeting.

"But we do not rule out the possibility," he said.

In December, Taiwan had celebrated a diplomatic coup when Mr Trump, as president-elect, took a congratulatory phone call from Ms Tsai, and raised questions about whether he would stick with the four-decade-old "one China" policy.

Mr Trump changed tack last month and agreed to honour the "one China" policy during a phone call with Mr Xi.

Mr Tillerson left China with warm words from Mr Xi, ending his first trip to Asia since taking office with an agreement to work together with China on North Korea and putting aside trickier issues.

Mr Xi praised growing communications in recent weeks between Beijing and Washington, and said he is "confident" of seeing bilateral relations moving in the "right direction".

Taiwan was discussed during the meeting, but details were not provided. - REUTERS

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