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China roots for opposition KMT election win for less confrontational ties with Taiwan

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(TibetanReview.net, Feb10’23) – China has expressed willingness to forge closer ties with Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), underscoring recent efforts by Beijing to adjust its tough approach to the democratically run island, reported the bloomberg.com Feb 10. The move has come ahead of Taiwan’s election of a new leader in 2024.

Song Tao, the head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), made the remarks in a meeting with visiting KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia on Feb 9, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

Song has said China and its ruling Communist Party were “willing to enhance exchanges and build up mutual trust with the KMT, and work with the KMT to promote relations between the two parties and two sides of the Taiwan Strait.”

However, the Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei has said in a statement that Beijing was handling the talks with Hsia in a way that was “harming our sovereign dignity.” Beijing should “abandon coercive thinking towards Taiwan,” it has added.

Taiwan is currently ruled by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which China sees as seeking the island’s formal independence, and which it has vowed will never happen. It sees the self-ruled island as a part of its territory, to be reunited by force if necessary.

The bloomberg.com report noted that China was wooing the KMT as campaign season heated up for a presidential election in Taiwan in Jan 2024. Chinese leader Xi Jinping appears to be calculating that easing off would boost the chances of a candidate from the opposition, which shares the idea that Taiwan is part of China.

The report said one of the leading presidential candidates from the DPP, Vice President William Lai, had once described himself as a “political worker for Taiwanese independence,” the type of rhetoric that angers Beijing.

Hsia may also meet Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Huning, the No. 4 official in China’s ruling Communist Party, during his nine-day trip across the strait. If that meeting takes place, it would show the high priority China is placing on Hsia’s visit, the report said.

KMT head Eric Chu has said the trip was aimed at talking with new officials dealing with Taiwan, and to try to resolve issues on agricultural and fishery products, which are among the island’s main exports to China. Song recently took over as head of TAO, the Chinese government’s department for handling cross-strait affairs. 

Beijing took a series of measures recently to loosen its tough approach on Taiwan. It signalled that it may resume shipments from more than 60 Taiwanese food companies that were among exporters it barred last year. It was an unofficial punishment China used to show displeasure with President Tsai Ing-wen, who belongs to DPP, for activities such as fostering ties with the US.

In a further sign that China is changing tack on Taiwan, state media said on Feb 10 the nation had restarted a passenger link between the coastal city of Quanzhou and the Taiwanese island of Kinmen. Two similar travel links had resumed earlier.

China recently held a series of highly intimidating air and naval military exercises off the coast of Taiwan, frustrated by Tsai’s courting of broader recognition for the island’s more than 23 million people, in part by hosting visits from high-profile figures. In Aug 2022, a trip by then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi prompted Beijing to order unprecedented military exercises around the island, including sending missiles over Taiwan.

Over his decade in power, President Xi ramped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Tsai. Beijing cut off all direct communication with her government because it refuses to accept the idea that the island is part of China under the so-called “one China” policy.

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