TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan repeated its offer to help China fight the new coronavirus on Thursday, but said it also wanted China to help send back to the island some 400 Taiwanese who have been stranded in the epicentre city of Wuhan by a lockdown.
Self-ruled Taiwan has close economic and cultural links with China and has so far reported nine cases of the virus, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and where most of the 170 deaths to date have occurred.
But political relations are tense. China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan, which it considers its own territory to be taken by force if needed, including holding military drills near the democratic island.
After Taiwan vice president-elect William Lai offered China help on Sunday, President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday repeated that offer and extended her sympathies to China, whose government has refused to have anything to do with her, believing she wants to push for the island’s formal independence.
“Based on humanitarian considerations, we express our concern and condolences to the people affected by the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic in China. Wherever we can, we are willing to provide necessary assistance,” she told a news conference, without providing details.
China said this week it was looking after Taiwanese in Wuhan to help “resolve problems” they may have, but has given no public indication of whether it will work with Taiwan to evacuate them.
Taiwan has been angered by China’s blocking its attendance at the World Health Organisation, which Taiwan is not a member of as China says the island is merely a Chinese province and is adequately represented by Beijing.
In another area of tension, Taiwan says China has so far not responded to a request to help evacuate Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan, all but locked down to contain the epidemic.
While China has been permitting foreign countries to fly their citizens out of Wuhan, including Americans and Japanese, the fate of Taiwanese in Wuhan has been less clear, especially as China essentially considers them Chinese citizens.
Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters about 400 Taiwanese, mostly people there on short-term visits rather than long-term residents, had requested help from Taiwan and wanted to go home.
Taiwan is continuing to talk to China about how to get them back home via special flights, Chiu added, and said he would release more details when he had them.
“If the mainland side really values the rights and interests of Taiwanese, it should respond to the government’s calls as soon as possible,” he said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Nick Macfie