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Ever-friendlier U.S.-Taiwan ties draw "firm opposition" from China

APTOPIX Taiwan Politics
In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, center, walks ahead of Vice-President Lai Ching-te, left of her, as they attend an inauguration ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan, May 20, 2020.  Taiwan Presidential Office via AP

Beijing has flashed its anger yet again over the Trump administration's ever-warmer ties with Taiwan. The latest condemnation from Beijing came Wednesday after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on her second inauguration.

"Her re-election by a huge margin shows that she has earned the respect, admiration, and trust of the people on Taiwan," Pompeo said in a written statement that was read aloud at Tsai's inauguration Wednesday in Taipei. "Her courage and vision in leading Taiwan's vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world." 

The praise prompted China's Ministry of Defense to issue a statement expressing "strong dissatisfaction" and "firm opposition" to Pompeo's remarks. The ministry stressed China's long-time stance that, "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China."

China said the latest comments from Washington "seriously violate" the "one-China" policy, which has been a cornerstone of U.S.-China relations for decades, and added that Pompeo's words hurt the "sentiments of the 1.4 billion Chinese people."

Taiwan, the U.S., and "one-China"

Taiwan split from China during the civil war that brought China's ruling Communist Party to power in 1949. The rival Nationalists set up their own government on the small island, which sits about 100 miles off China's coast.

China considers the island a renegade province, and the U.S. relationship with Taiwan is complicated.

China ramps up political interference ahead of Taiwan's presidential election 07:58

Under the one-China policy, which remains the policy of the Trump administration, Washington accepts that it deals only with Beijing for diplomatic affairs. There are no formal diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Taipei.

But under the terms of the diplomatic agreement with China — and under U.S. law — Washington is required to take any threat to the island seriously, and "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."

President Tsai has made bolstering the island's armed forces a focus of her administration, and the Trump administration has helped her do it, amid mounting Chinese military threats and a campaign to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and weaken its economy.

With his statement, Pompeo became the first U.S. Secretary of State to send an official congratulatory message to a president of Taiwan, which the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs heralded as a milestone. Pompeo is also now the highest-ranking U.S. official to congratulate President Tsai, specifically, who was elected as Taiwan's first female commander-in-chief in 2016.

Tsai won her first term in a land-slide. Her second victory, in January this year, set a new record; the biggest election margin for any president of Taiwan since democratic elections began in 1996. Her resounding victory came thanks in large part to her firm stance amid China's threats to reunify the island — by force, if necessary.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, pre-recorded messages from Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies and supportive politicians from around the world were played to congratulate Tsai at her inauguration on Wednesday. Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-New York) also tweeted out video congratulations to her and the Taiwanese people.

A Taiwanese renaissance?

Taiwan's stature on the global stage has been boosted this year by its success in combating the coronavirus. With a population of nearly 24 million people, Taiwan has reported just 440 infections and only seven deaths to date. In the lead-up to the World Health Organization's annual assembly meeting earlier this week, Taiwan made a renewed push to regain observer status at the WHO  which symbolically infers independent statehood - based on its COVID-19 successes.

Taiwan's coronavirus response shines spotlight on international status 05:19

But China blocked Taiwan's attempts to rejoin the global health body in an observer capacity, likely because of its anger at Tsai and her independence-leading Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government. 

"Over the next four years we will continue to fight for our participation in international organizations, strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation with our allies, and bolster ties with the United States, Japan, Europe and other like-minded countries," said Tsai at her inauguration.

 "Although we were once isolated in the world, we have always persisted in the values of democracy and freedom, no matter the challenges ahead of us."

CBS News' Grace Qi in Beijing contributed to this report.

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