China's greeting - and warning - to Taiwan

China has sent a greeting and also a warning to Taiwan, as cross-strait relations are set to enter a phase of uncertainties and tensions in the new year, with the island's presidential election next month likely to throw up a pro-independence leader.

Both sides exchanged New Year greetings yesterday morning in their first hotline call between China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) head Zhang Zhijun and Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chief Andrew Hsia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou had agreed on setting up the hotline during their historic meeting in Singapore on Nov 7, so that their respective ministers in charge of cross-strait ties could better deal with emergencies.

TAO spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told reporters yesterday that Mr Zhang and Mr Hsia also discussed the progress in cross-strait relations during their conversation.

MAC deputy chief Steve Lin was quoted in media reports as saying that Mr Zhang had made the call to Mr Hsia.

A statement from the MAC said Mr Hsia had told Mr Zhang that the hotline was an important concrete outcome from the meeting of the leaders of the two sides. "He expects the two sides to communicate more smoothly in urgent matters through the hotline," it added.

Speaking at a routine briefing, Mr Ma Xiaoguang also warned of a "collapse" in cross-strait ties if Taiwan stops recognising a framework that forms the cornerstone for both sides. He said the 1992 consensus - a verbal agreement between the Kuomintang (KMT) government in Taiwan and mainland China that there is "one China" with each side having its own interpretation of what it means - was a core concept that could not be questioned.

Failure to understand this means the "institutionalised cross-strait dialogue mechanism will be affected and could even collapse", he added.

"The ship of peaceful development would meet rough seas and could even sink," said Mr Ma.

He was responding to remarks by Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chief and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, whose independence-leaning party has never recognised the 1992 consensus.

Speaking at a live, televised debate on Sunday after being pressed by KMT candidate Eric Chu for her position on the issue, Ms Tsai said: "As long as we have sincerity, communication, I believe cross-strait relations can be stable. The 1992 consensus is one option, but it's not the only option. It is inappropriate to continue to frame it as such."

Cross-strait issues have come under closer scrutiny as the democratically ruled island prepares to elect a new president on Jan 16. Ms Tsai is one of the three contenders, who also include Mr James Soong, chairman of the People First Party.

A poll this month of 1,031 adults by cable news network TVBS showed Ms Tsai leading the race with 46 per cent support, followed by Mr Chu with 26 per cent and Mr Soong with 10 per cent. Undecided voters made up 17 per cent.

Concerns have mounted on the part of the Communist Party that progress in cross-strait ties under KMT rule since 2008 could be derailed if the DPP takes power and moves towards independence.

China, which deems Taiwan a renegade province to be recovered by force if necessary, reacted angrily this month to the planned sale of arms by Washington to Taipei, the first such deal between the two sides since 2011.

This article was first published on December 31, 2015.
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