Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with former US defense secretary Ash Carter in her office in Taipei on Tuesday. Photo: Handout

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vowed on a forum on Tuesday that she would defend Taiwan and the world’s “shared democratic values” amid Beijing’s continued attempts to “employ its sharp power to influence its neighbors.”

Among the audience at the Ketagalan Forum on Asia-Pacific security hosted by the self-ruling island’s Foreign Ministry was former US secretary of defense Ash Carter, who served in the administration of Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017.

Carter said on the sidelines of the forum that he was a strong supporter of the “traditional US policy favoring stability and dialogue across the strait,” as well as a strong, unofficial relationship with the island, including in the military sphere.

“Taiwan is part of a network of countries favored by the US’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy, which pursues security based on rules and principles, not coercion,” Carter was quoted as saying in a press release from Tsai’s office.

In his capacity as the US defense chief, Carter never minced his words when criticizing Beijing’s growing pull in the region. In May 2015, he warned Beijing to halt its rapid island-building in the South China Sea.

When serving as the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, he oversaw a slew of arms-sale deals and technical support for Taiwan. He even made a visit to the island and met with Tsai’s predecessor Ma Ying-jeou in 2008.

Tsai Ing-wen met with Ash Carter and other guest speakers prior to an annual security forum.  Photo: Handout

Two key agendas of the one-day forum on regional security were China’s sharp power and its challenges to the democratic world as well as the integration of the “New Southbound Policy” – Tsai’s brainchild to spawn business links with Southeast Asia to cut Taiwan’s dependence on mainland China – with Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

It’s believed that in a meeting with Carter, Tsai raised the issue of Beijing’s drills mocking the takeover of Taiwan and the People’s Liberation Army’s sea and air circumnavigations, as well as Beijing’s non-military bullying, such as browbeating the island’s international presence and forcing US companies to change the way they refer to Taiwan.

“We still believe in the power of dialogue, and our willingness to engage in dialogue with China remains unchanged” despite the latter’s stepped-up coercion, she reportedly told Carter in her office.

Tsai said her administration was committed to beefing up defense expenditures in line with the needs of the military and the economy, echoing Washington’s earlier call that the island should pour in more resources to strengthen its own defense capabilities in the face of greater threats from across the Taiwan Strait. That was the Pentagon’s response after Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on CNN that US must not leave Taiwan to stand alone.

But Tsai also reiterated afterward that the development of the island’s indigenous defense systems remained “high on the agenda,” Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

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