TAIPEI (Reuters) - A senior Chinese official said on Tuesday he was satisfied with his first tour of Taiwan since local elections last month returned some power to pro-independence politicians but reiterated steadfast opposition to the island’s independence.
Mainland China deems Taiwan a renegade province and has never renounced the use of force to take it back, particularly if the island makes a move toward independence.
Taiwan’s long-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has for decades been at odds with the mainland’s Communist Party rulers and tension between them was long one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. But both the KMT and Beijing have always resolutely opposed independence for Taiwan.
The KMT lost key mayoral seats in Nov. 29 elections, including its traditional stronghold of the capital Taipei, while a pro-independence opposition party made gains.
Chen Deming, president of the mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, on Tuesday wound up an eight-day visit which has given him the opportunity to gauge the new mood on the island.
“We are happy for friends across the Taiwan Strait to talk about cooperation and economic development,” Chen told reporters referring to ties that have warmed considerably over the last decade or so on extensive trade and investment.
“But people know that we’ve reiterated many times our position on our bottom line for Taiwan independence.”
The KMT calls for closer economic ties as a way for trade-reliant Taiwan to develop its economy, but critics of the government fear it compromises Taiwan’s political autonomy.
In an unprecedented show of opposition to closer economic ties, students in Taiwan protested this year against a cross-strait trade pact they said gave too much away to the mainland.
The suppression of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has compounded suspicion of the mainland among many Taiwan people and the set-back for the KMT at the polls last month was seen as a show of no-confidence in Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s China-friendly policies.
Ma stepped down as KMT party chief days after the drubbing.
Chen kept a low profile and stuck close to KMT strongholds as he toured Taiwan, reaching out at the grassroots level. He avoided areas with strong support for the Democratic Progressive Party, the island’s resurgent pro-independence party.
There were only small protests against him.
Alexander Huang, a former Taiwan official involved in policymaking toward China, said the island’s people had made their point in the polls last month: “They didn’t need to do more.”
Ultimately, the mainland might find it has no choice but to deal with new politicians in Taiwan as the KMT loses influence.
“These are yesterday’s people,” Bruce Jacobs, director of the Taiwan Research Unit at Monash University in Australia, said of the KMT.
“The Chinese would like to see a continuation of the KMT government; clearly that’s not going to happen.”
Additional reporting by Michael Gold; Editing by Robert Birsel and J.R. Wu