Amid China warning, Ma and Tsai pledge smooth transition

(From agencies)

The Chinese government warned Taiwan on Wednesday that the passage of a proposed new law governing relations between the two could seriously damage the basis for talks, and that Beijing opposed any obstacles to developing ties.

Taiwan's President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, left, with incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou at the official guest house after a courtesy call in Taipei March 30

Taiwan’s President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, left, with incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou at the official guest house after a courtesy call in Taipei March 30

China has looked on with suspicion at Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won presidential and parliamentary elections in January on the back of a wave of anti-China sentiment.

In 2014, hundreds of students had occupied Taiwan’s parliament for weeks in protests nicknamed the Sunflower Movement, demanding more transparency and fearful of China’s growing economic and political influence on the democratic island.

The protests over the 2013 Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which aimed to open up investment from both sides in industries such as banking, healthcare, and tourism, were the largest display of anti-China sentiment in Taiwan in years.

The DPP is proposing Taiwan’s parliament first passes a so-called cross-Taiwan Strait supervision law before it will consider agreeing to the trade pact.

China is worried that the law would stymie future agreements with Taiwan.

Asked about the law, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office An Fengshan said the basis for talks between the two sides should not be damaged.

The trade deal has stalled in Taiwan’s parliament, although the manner in which the self-ruled island moves forward in the current February-to-May session will be seen as a sign of how Tsai will steer Taiwan-China ties.

In the meantime, Taiwan’s outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou and his successor Tsai on Wednesday emphasized the need for a smooth transition of power amid a slowdown in the island’s high-tech economy and uncertainty over sensitive relations with China.

Tsai, who takes office on May 20, has declined to meet Beijing’s demand that she explicitly endorse its claim that Taiwan and mainland China are part of a single Chinese nation. She has stated that reviving economic growth and improving social welfare will be the main focuses of her administration, placing relatively little emphasis on relations with Beijing.

Without mentioning specific issues, Ma said Taiwan “faces many challenges from within and without,” which call for cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties.

While neither directly mentioned relations with China, Ma said he appreciated the Taiwanese people giving him the opportunity over the past eight years to work toward “a free, just and prosperous Taiwan, a peaceful Taiwan Strait and friendly international environment.”

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