Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's party moved quickly Friday to take advantage of reported remarks made by a senior U.S. official casting doubts on his rival's ability to maintain stable relations between the democratic island and mainland China.
A story in the Financial Times newspaper cited the unnamed U.S. official as saying that Tsai Ing-wen, Ma's opposition in January's presidential election, had created "distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years."
In response to a question about the official's reported comments, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner reiterated long-standing U.S. assertions that it will steer clear of Taiwanese internal politics.
"We strongly support Taiwan's democracy and the will of the Taiwanese people to choose their leaders in the upcoming election," Tomer said. "Our only interest is in free, fair and open presidential elections. We don't take any sides."
Reacting to the U.S. official's reported statement, Chen I-hsin, a spokesman for Ma's Nationalist Party, said it reflected "the doubts most Taiwanese have over Tsai's cross-strait policy, that she has only wishful thinking about the mainland."
Chen said that Tsai's rejection of the 1992 consensus _ a deliberately vague formulation that recognizes China and Taiwan are the same country and which allows the two sides to cooperate _ shows the insincerity of her claims that she will work with China in an effective manner.
"She wants the mainland to understand her policy but does not make enough effort to understand the other side," Chen said.
Since taking office in May 2008, Ma has lowered tensions across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait to their lowest level since Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949.
His policy of bringing the sides closer through commercial interaction has won widespread praise in Washington. While the U.S. transferred its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, it remains Taiwan's most important foreign partner, and has hinted it could come to its aid if China ever used force in an attempt to realize its 60-year-long goal of returning Taiwan to the fold.
Tsai is currently in the U.S., where she met with administration officials earlier in the week and also gave a speech on relations with China. In her speech, she tried to offer assurances that she would not replicate a predecessor's pro-independence, anti-China line if she is elected.
The remarks that appeared in the Financial Times infuriated the Tsai camp, which must now contend with the burden of a senior American official allegedly having cast doubts on Tsai's ability to deal effectively with the most sensitive issue Taiwan faces _ and the issue that will probably have more influence on the upcoming elections than any other.
Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Tsai's spokeswoman Hsiao Bi-khim said the official's reported comments "subvert every assurance we were given over the past few days that the United States government would remain neutral regarding Taiwan's election."