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Taiwanese premier’s independence stance incurs Beijing’s wrath

TAIPEI — A day after Taiwanese Premier William Lai openly identified himself as a supporter of independence for the island, China warned self-ruled Taiwan yesterday that it would “reap the consequences” of promoting formal independence.

Mr William Lai is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status. Mr Lai told Parliament on Tuesday that Taiwan was already an independent country called the Republic of China. Photo: Reuters

Mr William Lai is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status. Mr Lai told Parliament on Tuesday that Taiwan was already an independent country called the Republic of China. Photo: Reuters

TAIPEI — A day after Taiwanese Premier William Lai openly identified himself as a supporter of independence for the island, China warned self-ruled Taiwan yesterday that it would “reap the consequences” of promoting formal independence.

Taiwan’s government hit back, saying it was a reality that the Republic of China, the island’s formal name, was a sovereign country and that no matter what China said, it could not change this fact.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a wayward province under its rule.

Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Lai said he was a “political worker who advocates Taiwan independence”, but that it already was an independent country called the Republic of China and so had no need to declare independence.

He is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status.

Mr Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in reaction that relations across the Taiwan Strait that separates them are not “country to country” relations, and there is no “one China and one Taiwan”.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, has never been a country and can never become a country,” Mr Ma said. “The mainland side resolutely opposes any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ words or action, and will never allow the historical tragedy of national separation to repeat itself. The consequences will be reaped for engaging in Taiwan independence separatism,” he added, without elaborating.

Beijing has repeatedly warned that it would attack the island if it declares formal independence, but the timing of Mr Lai’s comments — ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China — is particularly sensitive.

In response to Mr Ma’s comments, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it did not matter what Beijing said, it was an “objective reality” that the Republic of China was a sovereign state.

“Taiwan’s future and the development of relations across the Strait will be jointly decided by Taiwan’s 23 million people,” it said.

Relations between Taipei and Beijing have nosedived since Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won election last year. China suspects her of wanting independence, but she says she wants to maintain peace with China and the status quo in cross-strait ties.

Beijing has suspended a regular dialogue mechanism with Taipei established under the previous, China-friendly government in Taiwan, and there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

Mr Lai’s comments came as he delivered his first administrative report to Parliament on Tuesday, when he was questioned by opposition Kuomintang and People First Party legislators over his stance on cross-strait issues.

Asked if his pro-independence stance contradicted a position he once described as being “pro-China, loving Taiwan”, Mr Lai said there was no contradiction at all.

“Pro-China, loving Taiwan means showing goodwill and reaching out to China in a friendly manner, while keeping Taiwan at the centre,” he noted, adding that what is most important is to strengthen Taiwan and to continue exchanges with China.

“We are willing to make friends with them.” AGENCIES

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