TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Taiwan presidential frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen sought to reassure she’d seek peaceful relations with China if she won Saturday’s election, as Beijing again warned the self-ruled island against any moves toward independence.
Since the 2008 election of the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou from the Nationalist Party, ties have improved rapidly, with a series of landmark trade and business deals signed and Ma held a historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.
But Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are looked at with great suspicion by China, which considers Taiwan a rebel province to be brought under its control, by force if necessary.
The White House this week called on Taiwan and China to avoid an escalation of tensions from elections in Taiwan if the DPP wins.
Speaking on a campaign stop in the central city of Taichung, Tsai said it was everyone’s responsibility to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait.
“We hope cross-strait relations can be peaceful, can develop, and at the same time maintain the status quo for all parties, including mainland China,” said Tsai, who would become the island’s first woman president.
“All countries must work hard together to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.”
Tsai has been at pains to stress stability with China, saying she would, if elected, work to communicate with China and other diplomatic allies.
China, however, warned it would not tolerate any moves by Tsai to undermine China’s sovereignty claims.
“We want to stress that we always uphold the ‘One China’ (policy), oppose Taiwan independence, oppose two Chinas,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in response to a question on a probable Tsai victory.
“No matter what changes take place on the island, this position will never change and has not changed.”
The DPP says the future of Taiwan is for its 23 million people to decide. Beijing takes to mean it wants independence.
The Nationalists on Friday warned the election was fundamentally about stability. Ma, the incumbent president, took to Facebook to urge people to vote for the party of “stability”.
“Only the Nationalists can maintain the stability of Taiwan and peace across the strait,” Ma said.
Andrew Hsia, the head of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s ministry in charge of China policy, said he believed Beijing would have “many questions about the outcome of the elections”, and that both sides could possibly liaise via a telephone ‘hotline’ that was set up late last year.
In a blitz of advertisements carried in newspapers on Friday, the final day before polling begins at 8 a.m. (0000 GMT) on Saturday, the Nationalists showed pictures of an anxious looking child clutching a Taiwan flag with the words: “I hope this vote will enable us to no longer feel afraid”.
Additional reporting by Faith Hung; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie