October 5, 2016 / 11:21 AM / 3 years ago

Taiwan appoints pro-China politician as APEC envoy

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday appointed a pro-China politician to represent her at a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders next month, offering an olive branch to Beijing amid an impasse in relations.

People First Party (PFP) Chairperson and presidential candidate James Soong attends a news conference ahead of the 2016 presidential election in Taipei, Taiwan, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Official communications between Taipei and Beijing have halted since Tsai, distrusted by China as the leader of a pro-independence party, took power in late May, and refused to stick to Beijing’s principle that Taiwan is part of China.

James Soong, leader of the People First Party, a splinter group from the China-friendly opposition Nationalists, is to represent Tsai at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping set for mid-November in Peru.

“Soong’s rich academic background, experience and contacts will enable him to precisely convey to the international community the all-round status of our development,” the Presidential Office said in a statement.

APEC meetings have traditionally offered an opportunity for senior officials from Taiwan and China to meet, because the grouping categorizes Taiwan as a member economy, not a nation.

China views self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province and forbids moves toward independence, never having renounced the use of force to take it back if necessary.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island in 1949 following defeat in a civil war against the Communists.

Soong, once the English interpreter for Chiang, is reviled by hardliners in Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally advocates an independent Taiwan, and who are a key support base for Tsai.

But Tsai is also seen as a shrewd negotiator who has remained unfazed by Beijing’s cold shoulder, urging instead for talks to resume.

Since coming to power, Tsai’s approval rating in opinion polls has dipped as Taiwan’s trade-reliant economy has struggled to recover momentum, hit partly by a fall-off in mainland Chinese tourists.

Last month a U.N. aviation agency snubbed Taiwan by not inviting it to a meeting in Canada, a sign of the pressure exerted by China.

Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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