HONG KONG/TAIPEI – Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s opposition chief expressed shared concern about souring relations between the two sides in the wake of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party’s rise to power on the island.
The encounter between Xi and Kuomintang Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu represented the first high-level exchange since the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen assumed the presidency in May and replaced the more China-friendly KMT. Xi hasn’t yet met Tsai, whose party was founded on the principle of independence from China, and continues to voice skepticism about closer ties.
Xi, who received Hung in his capacity as the Chinese Communist Party’s general secretary, said the two sides comprised an “inseverable community of common destiny” and warned against any move toward independence, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. “Looking into the future, the KMT and CPC should take responsibility for the nation and history,” Xi said.
The meeting underscores how far political relations across the Taiwan Strait have deteriorated since Xi’s historic handshake almost a year ago with then-Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou. While Tsai has pledged to maintain relations and hasn’t pushed for independence, Communist Party leaders have been angered by her refusal to say both sides belong to “one China,” a concept that underpinned eight years of improved relations under Ma.
In response, China has sought to isolate Tsai, courting the island’s diplomatic partners and asserting the right to prosecute Taiwanese phone fraud suspects caught overseas. The number of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan has also dropped.
Hung, a former vice president of Taiwan’s legislature, has cast her trip as an effort to break the deadlock. She supports the one-China framework and advocates signing a peace treaty between the two military rivals, who technically remain at war despite almost seven decades of separate rule and expanding economic ties.
“We can understand and can feel General Secretary Xi’s worry about the current state of cross-strait relations,” Hung said when meeting with Xi, according to a post on her official Facebook account. Afterward, she told reporters that she urged Xi give Taiwan more space to operate in international relations.
The DPP said in a statement late Tuesday that relations shouldn’t be “narrowly” decided between the KMT and Communist Party. The Taiwanese ruling party said it wouldn’t accept preconditions for talks and called any peace treaty a “highly sensitive political issue” for which conditions were not yet ripe.
Hung expressed a more accommodating approach during an abortive run for president last year, when she advocated replacing the “one China, different interpretations” slogan used by Ma with “one China, same interpretation.” Such views failed to win public support and the KMT took the unprecedented step of rescinding its nomination three months before the January election. Hung nonetheless won leadership of the party in March.
Hung’s delegation began by paying homage Monday at the Nanjing mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, regarded as the father of modern China by both the Communists and the KMT. She was scheduled to depart Thursday after attending a “peace and development” forum in Beijing on Wednesday. The trip comes 11 years after then-KMT chief Lien Chan traveled to the mainland to meet Communist counterpart Hu Jintao, a landmark encounter that also came at a time of tension between the Chinese government and a DPP president in Taiwan.
Taiwan remains apprehensive about closer ties with the mainland, with almost two-thirds of respondents preferring to keep things unchanged in a survey released in August by the island’s Mainland Affairs Council. About 10 percent favored eventual reunification, while 19 percent leaned toward independence.
China still has about 1,200 missiles pointed at the island and passed a law authorizing an attack the last time a DPP government made moves toward independence. The relationship has broad significance, because the U.S. provides Taiwan a security umbrella under a 1979 law requiring America to defend the island from a Chinese attack.