Taiwan opposition candidate Han Kuo-yu calls for return to 'one China' formula

Mr Han Kuo-yu gained nationwide popularity after winning a mayoral election last year on the promise of forging closer economic ties with China. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan's opposition presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu called on Thursday (Nov 14) for a return to a consensus with the mainland that there is only one China, but rejected Beijing's formula for Hong Kong-style "one country, two systems" unification.

A presidential election in January comes after a period of increasing tension between Taipei and Beijing, which has stepped up a campaign to "reunify" with what it considers a wayward province, wooing away the self-ruled island's few diplomatic allies and flying regular bomber patrols around it.

Taiwanese wariness of Beijing has also intensified in recent months because of unrest in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters say a "one country, two systems" formula in place since 1997 has put basic rights in jeopardy.

Beijing had stopped communications with Taipei since President Tsai Ing-wen came to office in 2016, representing the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party.

Ms Tsai refuses to recognise an agreement reached between China's communists and Taiwan's former ruling Kuomintang (KMT) that both sides belong to "one China", with each having their own interpretation of what that means.

KMT presidential candidate Han said the consensus reached in 1992 had been the "magical" tool to stability and communications across the Taiwan Strait.

"With the '92 consensus', many cross-strait issues could be resolved," Mr Han told reporters in Taipei, vowing to restart dialogue with China if elected president.

"The institutions of dialogue between Taiwan and the mainland have been in a state of stalemate. This is a very bad state of affairs for the 23 million people of Taiwan."

Mr Han did not directly answer Reuters' questions on whether he supports unification, but said Beijing's "one country, two systems" proposal would be unacceptable.

"I'd like to tell Beijing that democracy and freedom are not great scourges," Mr Han said.

"'One country, two systems' absolutely has no market in Taiwan."

Mr Han, 62, gained nationwide popularity after winning a mayoral election last year on the promise of forging closer economic ties with China. But he is struggling in opinion polls, trailing Ms Tsai by double digits.

He previously described Taiwanese independence as being scarier than syphilis and warned that Ms Tsai's re-election could lead to a "volcano eruption" in cross-strait ties.

He triggered controversy after meetings with several senior officials in China this year, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.