Pro-China protesters stage rally in Taiwan days before President-elect Tsai takes office

Members of the China Unification Promotion Party take part in a rally calling for closer ties with China in Taipei on May 18, 2016.
Members of the China Unification Promotion Party take part in a rally calling for closer ties with China in Taipei on May 18, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Hundreds of pro-China protesters led by gang leader turned politician "White Wolf" rallied in Taiwan's capital on Wednesday (May 18), calling on President-elect Tsai Ing-wen to preserve friendly ties with Beijing, days before she takes office.

China-sceptic Ms Tsai is facing questions over how she will handle cross-strait relations that are already growing rapidly frosty as she prepares to take the helm after an eight-year rapprochement under her Beijing-friendly predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

Ms Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally pro-independence and was voted in by a landslide after voters turned their backs on Mr Ma's Beijing-centred approach for fear the island's sovereignty was being eroded.

Led by infamous activist "White Wolf" Chang An-lo - who heads a small pro-unification party and regularly organises rallies in support of Beijing - protesters waved banners and Chinese flags outside the DPP headquarters.

"We respect Taiwan's democratic freedom, but we can't accept a lack of unity, lack of peace," said Mr Lu Yueh-hsiang of the pro-Beijing China Production Party.

Although a fully fledged democracy, self-ruling Taiwan has never formally declared independence and China still sees it as part of its territory.

Outgoing president Ma accepted a tacit agreement - known as the "1992 consensus" - between his Kuomintang party and Beijing which acknowledges there is only "one China".

That paved the way for a slew of trade deals and a tourist boom as mainland visitors flocked to the island.

Ms Tsai and the DPP have never recognised the agreement and are under pressure from Beijing to do so, with fears China will squeeze Taiwan economically if no compromise can be reached.

"If you accept the '92 consensus, everything can be open for discussion," Mr Chang told AFP.

"Only the '92 consensus can give Taiwan's economy a way forward."

Mr Chang was imprisoned for 10 years in the United States for drug trafficking and then lived in exile for 17 years in China before returning to Taiwan in 2013.

He and his followers have often clashed with China-sceptic protesters, including at the 2014 occupation of Parliament by students opposing a controversial trade pact with China.

But Wednesday's rally was calm, as around 300 supporters waved placards and listened to speeches and dance performances on a makeshift stage.

Cross-strait relations have already cooled since Tsai's election victory in January, despite her pledge to maintain the "status quo" with Beijing.

Her inauguration speech when she takes office on Friday will be closely watched by China for how she characterises cross-strait relations.