Taiwan's likely next ruling party says open to China engagement

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the DPP, looks at protestors outside the Central Elections Commission.
Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the DPP, looks at protestors outside the Central Elections Commission.PHOTO: AFP

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (REUTERS) - Taiwan's independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), likely to sweep to power in elections next month, is open to engaging with giant neighbour China, but more trust needs to be built on both sides, a senior party member said on Friday (Dec 11).

Taiwan votes in a new president and parliament in January when the ruling Nationalists (KMT) are expected to be soundly beaten by the DPP, supported by youthful voters angered by a perceived economic dependence on the mainland.

The DPP is detested by Communist Party rulers in Beijing because the party believes the future of Taiwan is for its 23 million people to decide, which Beijing takes to mean independence.

"We feel the trust in the relationship between the DPP and the Beijing government is very thin, very weak," Chen Chu told Reuters in an interview in Taiwan's second largest city of Kaohsiung where she is mayor. "I think through more goodwill and more exchanges we can slowly build the trust between the two sides."

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be taken by force if necessary, particularly if it makes moves towards independence.

Chen, 65, is a DPP grand dame who was once jailed for fighting for democracy during the martial law-era under the KMT. She is also presidential campaign chief for DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai, 59, likely to be the island's first woman president, has not elaborated on what her China policy will be, apart from saying her goal is to maintain a sustainable and consistent relationship.

Observers say her double-digit lead in opinion polls against rivals means she can wait until she wins to say more without the risk of upsetting voters.

"We should have a different start," Chen said. "She (Tsai) is a leader who is willing to create more goodwill between the two sides, for the sake of Taiwan."

Chen Shui-bian, the first, and so far only, DPP president, infuriated Beijing during his 2000-2008 rule.

China accused him of trying to push for independence and weaken the island's Chinese cultural heritage, even though Chen tried to maintain stable relations. Limits on trade and transport links were slowly relaxed under his rule.