Taiwan hangs out 'tiny welcome sign' for China delegation

Sun Dec 7, 2014 4:21pm EST
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By J.R. Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Chinese officials and business leaders visiting Taiwan this week can expect a lukewarm welcome at best, with the resurgence of the pro-independence opposition casting further doubt on deals already slowed by public suspicion of closer ties with Beijing.

The eight-day visit by a delegation led by a former Chinese commerce minister and including Alibaba founder Jack Ma is seen by many in Taiwan as aimed at gauging the mood on the self-ruled island towards its giant neighbor after a stinging election defeat for its ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

"The KMT is the most important partner of China. The biggest loser in this election is China," said Wu Chi-chung, an associate professor at Soochow University in Taiwan.

Elections on Nov. 29 for mayors and councillors islandwide eroded the power base of the KMT, or Nationalist party, forcing President Ma Ying-jeou to step down as party chief.

President Ma has promoted tighter economic links with China, but mounting opposition - often on security grounds - has already seen cross-strait investment flows slow from his early years in office after the KMT regained power in 2008.

Chen Chung-Hsien, an official at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, likened the attitude in Taiwan to having a "big door" for inviting foreign investment, while the "door" for mainland Chinese investors was smaller due to restrictions they faced.

"You don't want anyone to see the tiny 'welcome' sign in front of that door for mainland investors," said Chen, who works in the ministry's Bureau of Energy, which is in charge of Taiwan's first offshore wind power generation project.

That project was knocked back in September when opposition lawmakers questioned the planned use of a Chinese-registered platform vessel and Chinese personnel, citing concerns over possible surveillance of Taiwan's coastal waters by China.   Continued...

Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma attends the Fifth Conference of Zhejiang Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, December 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee