China welcomes Taiwan president's peace proposal

BEIJING Wed Oct 26, 2011 3:50am EDT

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou attends a news conference in Taipei, October 17, 2011.  REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou attends a news conference in Taipei, October 17, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Pichi Chuang

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday welcomed a proposal by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to consider a peace treaty with its long-time rival, but warned Taiwan's China-skeptical opposition not to whip the matter up to make political capital.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since 1949 when the Nationalists retreated to the island after losing control of the mainland to the communists in the civil war.

China has never renounced the use of force to regain control of Taiwan, though Taiwan unilaterally announced the end of hostilities in 1991.

"Ending the state of hostility between the two sides and reaching a peace agreement accords with the overall interests of the Chinese nation and is the common wish of compatriots on both sides of the Strait," Yang Yi, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters.

"This is a position we have upheld for many years and is the natural outcome of the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations."

"Chinese nation" is a term used by China that refers to the people who live on both sides of the Taiwan Strait in line with its "one China" policy.

Ma set off a controversy last week when he suggested a peace treaty with China could be signed in 10 years, drawing expressions of disquiet from his own party and charges from the opposition that he was jeopardizing Taiwan's security.

Following the criticism, he later said that any deal would be preceded by a referendum to gauge public opinion, a comment that risked upsetting Beijing, for whom referendums in Taiwan on political matters are anathema.

After Ma's comments, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) submitted a parliamentary proposal to change the island's referendum law to require all political talks with China to be submitted to a referendum.

However the ruling Nationalists, with their big majority in the parliament's procedural committee, voted against adding the proposal to the parliament agenda, effectively blocking it.

China spokesman Yang said all "important matters" which involved relations between the two sides should "consider the wishes" of both peoples. But he implied the DPP was playing games.

"Political consultations are something ... for the future when conditions are right, and no political force ought to be allowed to use this as an opportunity to whip things up and seek political gain," he added.

China has stepped up is rhetoric against the DPP in the past few weeks, despite the DPP's softening of its pro-independence stance which has angered Beijing in the past.

Ma is facing a tight battle for re-election in January presidential polls and is campaigning on the success of his policy of engaging China economically, which he says has kept the peace between the one-time Cold War foes.

The opposition says the policy is allowing China too much influence over Taiwan and is a first step toward reunification.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Sally Huang; Additional reporting by Jonathan Standing in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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