Taiwan’s leaders told its elderly representative there was no need to avoid Chinese President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Thailand, the envoy said on Monday.
That advice led to a rare meeting between the elderly founder of TSMC, the world’s biggest chipmaker, and the Chinese leader at a time when Beijing has been stepping up military pressure on the self-ruled island.
APEC is a grouping of 21 nations and one of the few international organisations that Taiwan is a member of, because China views the island as a province and not a country, and blocks its participation at most global forums.
Tension between Taipei and Beijing has risen since China staged war games near the democratically-governed island in August after a visit by Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the US House of Representatives.
“Certainly, the presidential office had said to me if there was an opportunity there was no need to avoid a meeting or a greeting. That was the only instruction,” Morris Chang, who is 91, told reporters in Taipei on his return from Bangkok.
Chang said he had talked to Xi on Friday in what he called a pleasant encounter, in which he congratulated Xi on the 20th Congress of China’s ruling Communist Party last month.
The Taiwanese envoy, who founded the TSMC in 1987, said his interaction with Xi and the congratulations were his own idea and he was offering his “own opinion”.
President Tsai Ing-wen “respected” the fact Chang had spoken to Xi, said Hsu Szu-chien, deputy head of Taiwan’s National Security Council, who sat beside Chang at the news conference.
Hsu did not elaborate, however, and Tsai did not attend the event, though she did walk Chang to the room in the presidential office where it took place.
China has not commented on Chang’s chat with Xi.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping has traditionally been one of the few forums where China and Taiwan talk, even if just in passing to exchange pleasantries.
China cut off a formal talks mechanism when Tsai first won office in 2016, believing her to be a separatist, which she denies.
Taiwan participates at APEC as “Chinese Taipei”, the name it also uses to participate in the Olympics and some other events.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard