Taiwan warned choice of pro-independence premier will see relations with mainland China worsen over next three years

Former Beijing official says William Lai’s stance will damage cross-strait ties

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 9:54pm

Taiwan’s relations with the mainland are likely to sour further over the next three years due mainly to the island’s recent appointment of a hardline pro-independence politician as premier, Wang Zaixi, a former deputy director of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, has warned.

Wang also warned that if the island authorities insisted on pushing for independence, it would only accelerate the pace of cross-strait unification.

In an interview published by the state-run Global Times newspaper on Sunday, Wang predicted cross-strait relations might worsen now that William Lai Ching-te has been appointed as premier.

“Lai is a highly ambitious and is known for his hardcore pro-independence stand among members of the younger generation of the Democratic Progressive Party,” Wang said, adding because Lai wants to replace Tsai Ing-wen as the island’s president, he intentionally plays up his stance to win support from the radical pro-independence camp.

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Wang noted Lai’s appointment was the result of pressure from the hardline pro-independence leaders.

Lai, a former mayor of Tainan in southern Taiwan and four-term legislator, was appointed to his current role in September after Tsai’s close ally Lin Chuan resigned as head of the cabinet, taking responsibility for the government’s poor performance and Tsai’s falling popularity.

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He described himself as a “political worker who advocates Taiwanese independence” during his administrative report to parliament, becoming the first senior official to publicly support this position.

Lai’s move has irked Beijing, which has repeatedly warned the island’s political leaders against promoting the island’s independence.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province subject to eventual union, by force if necessary.

It suspended exchanges and talks with Taiwan soon after Tsai, from the independence-leaning DPP, became president in May last year and refused to accept the “one-China” principle.

Wang said Lai’s move was obviously targeting Tsai, who has vowed to maintain cross-strait status quo. “From what Lai has said and done, it would be hard to maintain such a status, and the already sour relations between the two sides are feared to deteriorate further,” Wang said of Lai’s performance.

Asked if the mainland would force the island to reunify by 2020 as many have speculated, Wang said the reunification issue was rather complicated.

He added that it not only depended on the political situation on the island, but also on the state of affairs on the mainland.

“Regarding resolving the Taiwan issue, we got to have a sense of pressure, yet we also need to have certain patience,” Wang said, adding it was not an easy matter to give a concrete timetable.

“But what is certain is if the Taiwanese authorities choose to hasten the pace of independence, it would only serve to speed up cross-strait unification.”

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Discussing cross-strait relations over the next three years, Wang said the mainland has a set policy that which would not be altered by changes on the island.

If Taiwan continues to push for independence and distances itself from the mainland, cross-strait tensions will escalate, he said.

“But in general, we think we are able to basically control the big picture, though more trouble is expected,” he said.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which charts the island’s policy towards the mainland, had yet to comment Wang’s remarks due to a two-day public holiday that started on Monday.