March 3, 2018 / 8:33 AM / a year ago

China pledges friendship with Taiwan amid tensions over U.S. bill

(In this March 3 story, corrects description of official in lead to senior Communist Party official, deletes reference in fourth paragraph to fourth-ranked leader.)

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), speaks at the CPPCC's opening session at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China wants to deepen friendship with Taiwan, a senior official from the ruling Communist Party said on Saturday, a day after state media warned China could go to war over Taiwan if a U.S. bill promoting closer ties with the island becomes law.

China has been infuriated over the bill, telling Taiwan on Friday it would only get burnt if it sought to rely on foreigners, adding to the warnings from state media about the risk of war.

The legislation, which only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law, says it should be U.S. policy to allow officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts, permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States “under respectful conditions” and meet with U.S. officials.

Yu Zhengsheng put on a friendlier face at the opening session of a largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament which he heads, making no direct mention of the bill.

“We will deepen solidarity and friendship with our compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese,” Yu told the 2,000-odd delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.

The body will “mobilize all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation to work together for the greater national interests and realization of the Chinese Dream”, Yu added, referring to President Xi Jinping’s aspiration to restore a rejuvenated China to its full standing globally.

Hong Kong has been another troublesome area for China’s leadership, especially after students organized weeks of protests in late 2014 to push for full democracy.

Young activists in both Hong Kong and Taiwan have irked Beijing in recent years by pushing for greater autonomy or even independence and by organizing protests against China’s influence.

Hong Kong and Macau were former European colonial outposts that returned to Chinese rule in the 1990s.

China’s hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the election to president of Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2016.

China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.

Beijing considers democratic Taiwan to be a wayward province and integral part of “one China”, ineligible for state-to-state relations, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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