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September 24, 2017

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Strong rebuke of China comment sign of a trend in Taiwan: scholar

TAIPEI--A strong statement by the government rebutting China's position on Taiwan's future represents an effort to shore up public support for President Ma Ying-jeou's China policy, an expert on cross-Taiwan Strait relations said Saturday.

The administration's strong assertion that Taiwan's future should be decided by its 23 million residents also reflects a bottleneck in the development in the country's relationship with China, said Tung Chen-yuan, director of National Chengchi University's Graduate Institute of Development Studies.

The statement came in response to Beijing's reiteration on June 11 of its position that Taiwan's future should be decided by both Chinese and Taiwanese rather than by Taiwan's residents alone.

The issue "must be decided by all Chinese people, including Taiwanese compatriots," said Fan Liqing, a spokeswoman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office.

Even though it was a reiteration of Beijing's well-known position, Fan's comment drew immediate and angry retorts from politicians across party lines and China-bashers alike. Some comments posted online demanded in unequivocal terms that Beijing keep its hands off Taiwan.

Both the Mainland Affairs Council and the Presidential Office issued statements on behalf of the Ma administration, saying that the future of Taiwan and its relationship with China should be decided by Taiwan's citizens.

Commenting on the strong reaction, Tung said the idea that Taiwan's future should be left to the island's residents has become a consensus between the governing Kuomintang, which favors closer ties with China, and the pro-independence DPP.

"It's taken for granted that the DPP would have responded the way it did," he said, adding that the KMT administration had no choice but to follow suit given the high level of distrust in the government.

"Had it not rebuked Fan's comments, the lack of response would have been construed as acquiescence, which would have further eroded support for the Ma administration's cross-strait policy," said Tung, who served as deputy chief of the MAC in the previous DPP administration.

With political and sovereignty issues left unresolved, the closer economic and social integration between Taiwan and China since Ma took office in 2008 has led to greater unease among Taiwan's public about cross-strait relations, he said.

The fact that public opinion in Taiwan has run counter to the goal of Beijing's policy toward the island over the past six years means the development of cross-strait relations has reached a bottleneck, according to Tung.

The relationship could go backwards if Chinese President Xi Jinping is forced to adjust the "peaceful development" framework established by his predecessor Hu Jintao, Tung said.

Only 27 percent of Taiwan's voters agree that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to one China while 61 percent disagree, according to a poll released last month by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, a private polling firm.

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