BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - A senior Chinese leader praised the people of Taiwan for their contribution to winning World War Two on Monday, as a former senior Taiwan official arrived for a military parade which has sparked controversy on the self-ruled democratic island.
China’s official narrative downplays the wartime contribution of Nationalist government troops in battling Japanese occupiers. It focuses instead on Communist forces, who were also fighting an on-off civil war with the Nationalists.
This has upset the government in Taiwan, where the same Nationalist party now governs after its ancestors fled there in 1949, having lost the civil war.
Former Taiwan vice president Lien Chan, also a former chairman of the Nationalist Party, will attend the parade in Beijing on Thursday, but as a private citizen.
Yu Zhengsheng, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s fourth-ranked leader, told Lien that both parties played an important role in defeating the Japanese.
“The majority of Taiwan compatriots breathed together with the motherland and shared the same destiny. Their struggle against the Japanese was an invaluable part of the whole Chinese people’s struggle,” the official Xinhua news agency cited Yu as saying.
Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony during the war, has a broadly more positive view of Japan than the official Chinese line, and Lien’s visit has caused upset with both the ruling party and the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
A spokesman for President Ma Ying-jeou said that Ma had reiterated the official Nationalist line that it would be “unsuitable” for Lien to attend.
China still regards Taiwan as a renegade province which must unify with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Most senior Western leaders are skipping the parade, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, concerned about the message a massive show of force will send a region already worried by China’s growing military assertiveness.
The DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen, who is the front-runner for the January presidential election, said before Lien left that he should not go.
“Particularly because China has not renounced the use of military force against Taiwan, Lien’s attendance at this event runs counter to the feelings of the Taiwanese people,” Tsai said.
“It also sends the wrong message to the international community,” she added, in comments made to Taiwan media on Sunday and confirmed by an aide on Monday.
The DPP, widely seen as retaking power in January, is far more skeptical of China ties than the Nationalists, who have signed a number of trade deals with the mainland in recent years.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Gold; Editing by Nick Macfie