China on Thursday warned of a serious disruption of ties with Taiwan as the island’s voters appear set to elect a new president with a far more skeptical view of dealings with Beijing. The year ahead is bringing “complex changes” and the sides face “new challenges,” the director of the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office Zhang Zhijun said in a News Year’s greeting to Taiwan’s 23 million people. Recalling the progress in relations made over the past seven-plus years under Taiwan’s China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, Zhang said he hoped Taiwanese realized those gains could evaporate if the island defied China’s insistence that it remained a part of the Chinese nation. “We don’t want to wait until the street light goes out to appreciate the illumination it has brought, or to wait until the fruits of peaceful development are lost to appreciate their value,” Zhang said.
Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen is leading by a broad margin in polls to win the self-governing island’s Jan. 16 presidential election. That would hand defeat to the pro-China Nationalists, who have held the office since 2008, although control of the island’s legislature remains up for grabs.
While it has yet to comment directly on the election, Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, is watching developments closely. Bitter hostility between the sides has eased considerably over the past two decades, with direct trade and travel links fully established and their economies growing increasingly intertwined.
Though largely symbolic, a historic November summit in Singapore between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the first meeting between leaders since they split amid civil war in 1949. Still, China and Taiwan are now moving into a period of uncertainty and it remains unclear exactly how China will respond to a Tsai presidency.