TAIPEI: A group of opposition officials from Taiwan have bypassed the government and traveled to China on a bridge-building trip as relations with Beijing turn frosty under new president Tsai Ing-wen.
Observers say the meeting is a move by China to up the pressure on Tsai and an attempt to woo a public wary of closer ties with Beijing.
China has severed all official communication with Beijing-sceptic Tsai and her new Democratic Progressive Party government (DPP), which came to power after a landslide victory in January over the Kuomintang (KMT).
Although Taiwan is self-governing, Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory to be reunified.
But Tsai has refused to acknowledge the concept that there is only “one China” — a precondition Beijing says is necessary for cross-strait dialogue to resume.
The delegation of eight local-level chiefs who met a senior Beijing official on Sunday back the “one China” concept.
Following the meeting, China promised to promote agricultural trade, technology and tourism with those counties who had sent representatives.
Six of the delegates were from the KMT and two were independents.
Taiwan’s presidential office was not informed in advance of the delegation’s trip, spokesman Alex Huang told Agence-France Presse, adding that prior notification is not required by law.
Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of China’s top political advisory body, praised the county leaders in the meeting for their efforts to “promote peaceful development of cross-strait relations,” according to a statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO).
Political analyst Francis Hu said the meeting was a push by Beijing to win over the Taiwanese public, who became increasingly wary of warmer ties with Beijing under the previous KMT government, fearing the island’s sovereignty was being eroded.
“This is a tug-a-war of public opinions and China is putting its chips on the KMT,” said Hu, head of Tunghai University’s political science department.
Beijing is trying to send the message that if Taiwan officials accept the “one China” concept, they will be rewarded economically, he said.
KMT officials have in the past met with mainland politicians in Beijing, but Sunday’s meeting was the highest-profile since Tsai took office.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT forged eight years of rapprochement with Beijing under the so-called “1992 consensus” — a tacit agreement that there is only “one China” but each side is allowed its own interpretation.
But voters who felt they did not benefit from closer China ties turned their backs on the KMT in general elections earlier this year.
President Tsai was voted in on the promise of making Taiwan proud of its identity once more and diversifying trade away from Beijing.
But she has been battling falling popularity and a raft of protests since taking office in May as the economy continues to stagnate and she struggles to unite factions within her own party and the government as a whole.