BEIJING (AP) — China won't get involved in Taiwan's upcoming elections, a government spokesman said Wednesday, underscoring the sensitivity surrounding polls in which the island's pro-independence opposition is expected to make a strong showing.
An Fengshan, the Chinese government's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman, told reporters that bilateral relations were entering an "important time frame," but that Beijing hoped to maintain peace and stability between the sides.
However, he defined relations largely in terms of those between China's ruling Communist Party and Taiwan's pro-unification ruling Nationalists, who face an uphill battle in the Jan. 16 elections.
The two parties should "consolidate and enhance political mutual trust," while continuing to oppose Taiwan's formal independence, An said. China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought into the fold by force if necessary.
Surveys show the candidate for Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen, favored to win the presidency by a large margin, while the Nationalists continue to struggle. Lawmakers are to be elected on the same day, with control of the legislature up for grabs.
Nationalist President Ma Ying-jeou is barred from seeking a third term and the party dumped its original candidate to succeed him earlier this month amid signs that her pro-China stance was alienating voters. Young Taiwanese are especially suspicious of closer relations with Beijing and view China as both a political and economic threat.
Following decades of cross-strait enmity, China has largely taken a low-key approach to politics on the island for fear of tainting its political allies.
Earlier attempts to threaten or cajole Taiwanese voters were seen as counter-productive, fueling the belief that Beijing was trying to undermine the island's democracy ahead of formal unification in the same manner as the formal British colony of Hong Kong.
Such threats were seen as helping DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian win the presidency in 2000, while the Nationalists earlier this year suffered a major defeat in local elections in a result attributed to dissatisfaction over their support for closer China ties.
The Nationalists fled to Taiwan following their civil war defeat to the Communists in 1949, but reconciled with their former foes a decade ago. That good will is largely based on their shared conviction that Taiwan remains a part of Chinese territory despite its separate political status.
While the DPP officially advocates Taiwan's formal split from China, it has pledged to adhere to the will of the majority of Taiwanese, who favor maintaining the status quo of de facto independence.