WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The presidential hopeful for Taiwan's pro-independence opposition party sought on Wednesday to ease concerns that if she won the January 2016 vote relations with China would not be strained.
Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who is visiting the United States to rally support from U.S. officials and politicians, said that if she won the vote she would be a "reliable partner" for Washington with a "proactive diplomatic agenda for peace."
"I am also committed to a consistent, predictable and sustainable relationship with China," she told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Addressing concerns that the DPP's pro-independence stance could damage improved Taiwan-China ties - which have been welcomed by Washington - Tsai reiterated her support for a "status quo," saying the conduct of China policy "must transcend the position of a political party."
"We do have a broad consensus in Taiwan – that is maintenance of the status quo. If elected, I will push for peaceful, stable development of cross-strait relations in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people."
China is highly suspicious of the DPP. Beijing still considers Taiwan a renegade province to be retaken by force if necessary after nationalist forces fled there in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists that has never formally ended.
Washington backs a "one-China policy" and has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its main ally and committed to helping it defend itself in the event of a renewed conflict.
Tsai is on a 12-day, six-city U.S. visit to rally support. The State Department has declined to give details of her meetings with U.S. officials, but she has met congressional leaders.
Tsai paused for moment when asked at the think tank her opinion of Chinese President Xi Jinping, before joking: "I have to understand I have to answer this question very carefully!"
She went on to say that Xi was said to be very determined and she admired his courage in fighting corruption.
Tsai said Xi was not known for flexibility but she hoped he could exercise this with Taiwan, given that he had been governor of Fujian province across the Taiwan Strait and his "understanding of Taiwan as a democracy."
Beijing's ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, was quoted by China's Xinhua news agency as saying on Tuesday that Tsai should accept the one-China principle rather than making ambiguous statements as to whether she will abandon her ambition for independence.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by David Storey, Bernard Orr