China Suspends Diplomatic Contact With Taiwan

By Javier C. Hernandez / June 25, 2016 / Originally posted at NY Times

BEIJING — In a sign of growing friction between China and Taiwan, mainland diplomats said Saturday that they had suspended contact with their Taiwanese counterparts because the island’s new leader would not endorse the idea of a single Chinese nation.

Beijing said it had cut off communication because President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan failed to endorse the idea that Taiwan and the mainland are part of one China, a concept known as the 1992 Consensus.

The move was the latest effort by the Chinese government, led by President Xi Jinping, to increase pressure on Ms. Tsai, who took office last month and has unsettled Beijing with her reluctance to disavow calls for Taiwanese independence.

“The cross-strait communication mechanism has been suspended because Taiwan did not recognize the 1992 Consensus, the political basis for the One China principle,” An Fengshan, a spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement posted on its website.

Taiwanese officials said Saturday that they would continue to try to communicate with their mainland counterparts. “We hope Taiwan and the mainland can continue to have benign interaction, which is good for both sides,” said Tung Chen-yuan, a government spokesman in Taipei.

Patrick M. Cronin, a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security, called the decision by Beijing to halt talks a “warning shot across the bow.” He said mainland officials were growing increasingly nervous about an independence movement in Taiwan and were seeking to hinder Ms. Tsai’s domestic agenda, including her promise to revive a slowing economy.

“China will deny carrots and signal red lines for President Tsai as she grapples with her fundamental challenge, which is righting the economy,” Dr. Cronin said.

Taiwan and China have been estranged since the Communist revolution of 1949. Under Ms. Tsai’s immediate predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, the two sides forged closer economic and political ties.

Ms. Tsai has taken a more cautious approach, openly criticizing Chinese officials and warmly embracing China’s historic rivals like Japan. Her party, the Democratic Progressives, has traditionally advocated Taiwanese independence, a move the mainland has threatened to counter with military force.

Ms. Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo in cross-strait relations, but she has stopped short of offering an unequivocal endorsement of the One China policy. 

In 1992, Taiwan and the mainland agreed to consider themselves part of a single Chinese nation, but each side embraces a different interpretation of what that means.

Mainland officials treat the consensus as a prerequisite for normal relations, and threatened to suspend contact if Ms. Tsai did not endorse the principle. The state media published a series of scathing editorials, including one in which a People’s Liberation Army general suggested that Ms. Tsai, Taiwan’s first female president, held extremist views because she was unmarried.

On Saturday, the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing revealed that talks with the Mainland Affairs Council in Taipei had been suspended since May, soon after Ms. Tsai’s inauguration. The two entities represent one of the primary channels of communication between China and Taiwan, overseeing discussions related to trade, law, education and culture.

Tensions between the two sides increased in recent weeks, after Cambodia, an ally of Beijing, decided to deport to mainland China 25 Taiwanese citizens accused of participating in an internet scheme. It was the third instance in recent months of China’s seeking to prosecute citizens of Taiwan on its soil.

On Saturday, Chinese officials defended their handling of the case, saying efforts to crack down on internet schemes were legitimate and supported by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Analysts said the decision to suspend talks was probably the beginning of a campaign by Beijing to increase pressure on Taiwan.

China has several methods by which it could further constrain Ms. Tsai. It could seek to lure away Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies with promises of lucrative infrastructure investments. It could also place restrictions on Chinese tourism to the island, which has increased significantly in recent years, becoming a bright spot for the otherwise struggling Taiwanese economy. Read more…

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