China yesterday warned of a serious disruption of ties with Taiwan as the island’s voters appear set to elect a new president with a far more sceptical view of dealings with Beijing.
The year ahead is bringing “complex changes” and the sides face “new challenges,” the director of the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, said in a New Year’s greeting to Taiwan’s 23 million people.
Recalling the progress in relations made over the past seven-plus years under Taiwan’s China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, Zhang said he hoped Taiwanese realise those gains could evaporate if the island defies China’s insistence that it remains a part of the Chinese nation.
“We don’t want to wait until the street light goes out to appreciate the illumination it has brought, or to wait until the fruits of peaceful development are lost to appreciate their value,” Zhang said.
Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen is leading by a broad margin in polls to win the self-governing island’s Jan. 16 presidential election.
China and Taiwan have launched a hotline to help ease cross-strait tensions https://t.co/mnGnf0drho— TIME (@TIME) December 30, 2015
That would hand defeat to the pro-China Nationalists, who have held the office since 2008, although control of the island’s legislature remains up for grabs.
While it has yet to comment directly on the election, Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, is watching developments closely.
Bitter hostility between the sides has eased considerably over the past two decades, with direct trade and travel links fully established and their economies growing increasingly intertwined.
Though largely symbolic, a historic November summit in Singapore between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first meeting between leaders since they split amid civil war in 1949.
Still, China and Taiwan are now moving into a period of uncertainty and it remains unclear exactly how China will respond to a Tsai presidency.
While Beijing has abandoned the direct threats against Taiwanese voters of the past that ultimately backfired, Zhang’s warning appeared directed as much at Tsai herself as at the island’s populace at large.
While Tsai’s DPP backs Taiwan’s formal independence — something Beijing says it will respond to with force — she has repeatedly stated her commitment to maintaining the status quo.
However, she has also refused to endorse Beijing’s demand that she recognize the island and mainland as part of a single Chinese nation, a fuzzy doctrine known as the “92 Consensus” that formed the basis for ice-breaking talks between the sides more than two decades ago.
She has also sought to address concerns among many on the island who remain highly dubious of Ma’s moves toward closer economic integration with China.
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