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China paper denounces Taiwan opposition leader

November 9, 2015

A state-run mainland Chinese newspaper denounced Taiwan’s opposition leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen as narrow-minded and selfish on Monday as she criticised a historic meeting between the leaders of the two sides.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou shook hands in Singapore Saturday, marking a symbolic step towards closing the rift that has separated Beijing and Taipei since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

But the occasion also highlighted the tensions that remain across the Taiwan strait — China still has an estimated 1,500 missiles aimed at stopping the island from declaring its independence.

Tsai, head of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), blasted Ma for failing to stand up for Taiwan’s democracy and freedom at the meeting and for not describing the island as the Republic of China, the official title it gives itself.

The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to China’s ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial Monday that she had “made gaffes”, describing her as “wrathful” in an attempt to “belittle the meeting”.

She had “exposed her support for ‘Taiwan Independence'”, it added — anathema to Beijing.

“Tsai’s demand has revealed her narrow mind and extreme political selfishness of putting votes above peaceful development across the Straits,” the paper said.

In a post on her official Facebook page Sunday, Tsai accused Ma of trying to “limit Taiwan’s future… to achieve his own political status”.

As she visited a public event at a temple in northern Taiwan’s Keelung City Monday, Tsai again criticised Ma’s approach.

“Taiwan’s leader should defend greater rights to choice for the people, not limit it,” she said.

– Popular concern –

Relations between Beijing and Taipei have improved dramatically since Ma’s 2008 election, with increases in trade and tourism, as well as the start of direct flights.

But popular concern about Beijing’s influence is growing on the island and the DPP, which has long called for a split with the mainland, looks set to win January’s presidential election.

The Global Times warned of “powerful countermoves from the mainland” if Tsai pursues the island’s independence once taking office.

“She may have a quicker and uglier defeat if she doesn’t learn from Chen’s being crushed,” it said, referring to former Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian of the DPP.

Chen was imprisoned for 20 years in 2008 on corruption charges, but was released on medical parole in January.

“The future of Taiwan must be decided by 1.3 billion Chinese, including those in Taiwan,” it said.

Tsai has been criticised for failing to elaborate on her own policy towards China, but hit back at opponents Monday, saying she had always been clear about cross-strait relations.

She said her policy was to “first of all maintain the freedom and democracy in Taiwanese people’s lives and secondly, to maintain peace and stability across the strait”.

Tsai added that Taiwanese people should play a role in deciding how cross-strait ties should develop.

The DPP is traditionally pro-independence, but Tsai has taken a more moderate tone as presidential candidate.

She has said she would not rule out visiting Beijing, under the right conditions.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.