TAIPEI (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of posts apparently from China have flooded Taiwan presidential election front runner Tsai Ing-wen's Facebook account, demanding that the island return to China - and her response on Wednesday was to welcome mainland interest in democracy.
The surge in posts, nearing 70,000 by Wednesday, is all the more astonishing because Facebook is generally blocked in Communist Party-ruled China, although there are ways of getting around firewalls.
"I hope this rare new experience can let the 'new friend' see a more complete democracy, freedom and pluralism of Taiwan," Tsai posted to contributors "from across the Strait", the narrow strip of water separating China and Taiwan. "Welcome to the world of Facebook!"
China deems proudly democratic Taiwan a breakaway province to be taken back, by force if necessary, particularly if it makes moves toward formal independence.
Tsai is the leader of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally favors independence from China and is widely expected to win presidential and parliamentary elections in January.
The surge in posts, if indeed from China, underscores how much attention is being paid to the island and its relationship with China since a historic meeting between the two leaders at the weekend, the first since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949. Chinese state media praised the summit as a success on the road to eventual unification.
The posts, many written in simplified Chinese characters normally used on the mainland, did not appear to be machine-generated spam or an attack, said DPP spokesman Cheng Yun-peng. They seemed genuine, but the DPP had not verified their authenticity, he said.
One read: "...peaceful unification. One country, two systems. Break through the machinations and return to me Formosa", referring to the island by its former name.
Another one read: "Liar, DPP independence activists scram out of China soon."
Chiang Kai-shek's ruling Nationalists fled to Taiwan after being defeated by Chinese Communists in 1949. The island has been self-ruled since. The Nationalists and the Communists agree there is "one China", but disagree on the interpretation.
There were as many posts defending Tsai and the DPP as well, written in traditional Chinese characters used on the island. One said "online pen wars" may give writers from China a sense of freedom.
"But when we take our presidential vote to the ballot box, you will wake up from your daydream because this is democracy - and you don't have it," it said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Hong Kong and J.R. Wu in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie)