April 3, 2018 / 3:13 AM / 21 days ago

Taiwan, China spar over Taiwan premier's independence remarks

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s government said on Tuesday that China was stirring up its media to threaten the self-ruled island after a major state-run newspaper said China should issue an international arrest warrant for Taiwan’s premier for his comments on independence.

Taiwanese new premier William Lai speaks during a cabinet transition ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues. The island is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory and China has never renounced the use of force to bring under Chinese control what it considers to be a wayward province.

China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was elected Taiwanese president in 2016. China fears she wants to push for formal independence, though Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to peace.

After Taiwan Premier William Lai told parliament on Friday that he was a “Taiwan independence worker” and that his position was that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country, the widely-read Chinese tabloid the Global Times said he should be prosecuted under China’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law.

“If evidence of his crimes are cast iron, then a global wanted notice can be issued for him,” the paper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote on Saturday.

Late on Monday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office weighed in, saying Lai’s comments were “dangerous and presumptuous”, which harm peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and that Taiwan will never be separated from China.

Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said the Global Times and Chinese government’s comments were “intimidating and irrational”.

“Taiwan is a democratic, pluralistic society,” it said, adding Lai had consistently followed the president’s policy of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

China “has repeatedly manipulated the media and so-called ‘internet users’ to threaten and repress Taiwan’s government and people, trying to use military blows and legal threats to violate our dignity and interests”, the council said.

“This is not what a responsible party should be doing. It will only increase cross-strait antagonism and damage relations,” it added.

“Over the past two years, our government has not ‘felt animosity towards China’,” the council said. “But mainland China must face up to the reality of the separate governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and respect Taiwan’s democracy and will of its people.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Taiwanese new premier William Lai attend a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan September 5, 2017. REUTERS/Yeh.G.E/Files

Reporting by Jeanny Kao; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry

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