Sacked Taiwan cross-strait relations official says probe could damage ties with China

Mr Chang Hsien-yao, former deputy minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), speaking during a press conference in Taipei on August 21, 2014. One of Taiwan's top negotiators on China policy is being investigated on suspicion of leaking secr
Mr Chang Hsien-yao, former deputy minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), speaking during a press conference in Taipei on August 21, 2014. One of Taiwan's top negotiators on China policy is being investigated on suspicion of leaking secrets after resigning, his superior said, in the latest political scandal to rock the island. -- PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (Reuters) - A former Taiwan official involved in talks with mainland China until he was sacked said on Thursday any investigation into his handling of relations could damage ties with Beijing.

Mr Chang Hsien-yao, who until last week was the vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's government agency responsible for cross-strait relations, has been under investigation by the council and judicial authorities over what the council said was possible wrongdoing.

Mr Chang has denied any wrongdoing, and asserted his loyalty to his duties and to the President. He told a news conference that relations with China and the mechanism for talks would be damaged because of the allegations against him. "This is a big step backward," he said.

Cross-strait relations are complex and there are many channels for contacts, both formal and informal, Chang said. There is a process and if he was suspected of doing wrong, then other officials who handle such matters may become wary about what they are doing, he said.

He said he could not give details about what may be involved because to do so would be violating national security laws.

The council announced Mr Chang's resignation late last week citing "family reasons", but Mr Chang said this week he had been forced to quit.

The council later said it asked him to leave because it was looking into possible wrongdoing.

Calls to China's Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, which handles relations with the island, went unanswered.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of a civil war in 1949, and China has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.

While relations have improved under the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, who has signed a series of landmark economic deals since taking office in 2008, deep political and military suspicions remain.

Mr Chang's case has come as mid-level officials from China and Taiwan are expected to gather in Taiwan in the next month to discuss various aspects of a controversial pact related to tradeable goods.

Taiwan's Minister of Economic Affairs Woody Tyzz-Jiun Duh told Reuters on Thursday that it may be hard to conclude fresh agreements before the end of the year.

Council chairman Wang Yu-chi said on Wednesday the council had wanted to protect Chang by not revealing the real reason for his dismissal, adding that it was too early to say if Mr Chang was involved in any wrongdoing.

This week, the council said it had submitted relevant material to the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau.