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US still supports improved China-Taiwan relations

December 1, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States said Monday it will continue to support better ties between Taiwan and mainland China despite the rout suffered by Taiwan’s pro-Beijing ruling party in local elections.

The ruling Nationalist Party lost nine cities and counties in Saturday’s vote, dealing a stiff blow to a government that has pushed closer economic ties with Beijing. The self-governing island’s premier quickly resigned.

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, but after President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, Taiwan has set aside old disputes to ease tensions through talks.

China’s government is urging Taiwan to protect those gains.

But the Nationalists’ heavy losses point to an electorate that is souring on Ma’s policy, which could make it tougher for him to sign a pact to cut import tariffs and further deepen ties with Beijing before his mandate expires in 2016.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. view on cross-strait relations has not changed, and it will encourage Beijing and Taipei to continue their “constructive dialogue.”

The U.S. has maintained a delicate balance in its relations between the mainland and Taiwan since switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. Washington wants a cooperative relationship with Beijing, but remains committed by law to assist Taiwan in maintaining its defensive capability.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said U.S.-Taiwan relations will not be significantly affected by the weekend election results, but the Obama administration will probably strengthen communication with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, which gained most in the vote.

The DPP says it favors continuing talks with China’s Communist leadership, albeit under a different format. The DPP, however, is regarded with deep suspicion in Beijing because its former leader, Chen Shui-bian, advocated for constitutional independence when he ruled the island from 2000 to 2008. Beijing threatened at the time to use force to stop the move.

The think tank said current DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen will visit Washington in February and U.S. officials will probably encourage her to find ways to narrow her party’s differences with the mainland.

“The United States has an interest in the preservation of stable cross-strait relations,” said the analysis by Bonnie Glaser and Jacqueline Vitello.

Update hourly