Taiwan’s China-friendly opposition party said Monday it would not send a delegation for talks on the mainland after “inappropriate comments” by Beijing’s state media.
The snub highlights growing friction between China and the Kuomintang (KMT) party, which favors warmer ties with Beijing but is struggling to persuade an increasingly skeptical public that is growing wary of its giant bellicose neighbor.
China has refused to talk to Taiwan’s ruling party since 2016, but KMT politicians maintain ties and travel each year to the mainland for a forum in the coastal city of Xiamen.
However, they have been angered by a recent current affairs program on China’s state-run CCTV that described their visit as “suing for peace.”
The triumphant tone of the report piled pressure on the KMT to cancel the visit at a time when many voters feel the party is overly deferential to Beijing.
“If (China) wants to maintain goodwill and peaceful interactions between both sides, it should not use inappropriate comments like this,” KMT’s Culture and Communications Chairman Wang Yu-min told reporters.
“Mutual trust between both sides are at a very fragile state now,” he added.
This year will be the first time in 12 years the KMT will not attend the forum and is a blow for Beijing’s attempts to woo political allies on the self-ruled island.
China views democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it – by force if necessary.
Beijing has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of “one China.”
Chinese jets also twice penetrated the island’s air defense zone during large-scale military exercises last week.
“For whatever reason, the CCTV comments have crossed the line,” Taipei-based political analyst J. Michael Cole told AFP.
“I think it would be a loss for Beijing this year if even the KMT chose not to attend. That speaks volumes about the state of relations in the Taiwan Strait,” he added.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had denounced the Xiamen forum and criticized Beijing for only being willing to talk to the opposition.
Tsai’s offer of talks have been repeatedly rebuffed by Beijing, but China’s pressure has done little to dent her popularity.
Earlier this year she won a second term with a landslide as voters looked on with alarm at Beijing’s crackdown on nearby Hong Kong, and rebuffed the muscular threats adopted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Since Xi came to power increasing numbers of Taiwanese voters now see themselves as distinct from authoritarian China.