China accuses Taiwan of unfair trade barriers month before election

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Friday said that after an investigation, it had determined Taiwan was erecting unfair trade barriers – an accusation the government in Taipei calls an attempt to interfere in key elections next month.

China had in October said it was extending its investigation to Jan. 12, the eve of Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which will shape the Chinese-claimed island’s relations with Beijing.

Taiwan frequently accuses Beijing of seeking to exert pressure, whether military or economic, to ensure an outcome favourable to the Chinese government.

China’s Commerce Ministry said that it had determined Taiwan had put up trade barriers in contravention of World Trade Organization rules, and that a trade deal signed in 2010 with Taiwan has had a “negative impact” on Chinese companies.

The ministry stopped short of announcing any countermeasures. It was also unclear whether the investigation is over.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a separate statement, said that evidence from the probe is clear and that its conclusions objective and fair.

“We support the relevant authorities to study and take corresponding measures in accordance with regulations based on the final findings of the investigation on trade barriers to Taiwan,” it said.

Taiwan is willing to have talks with China about Beijing’s trade barrier accusations against the island, the government said on Friday.

“If China is sincere, our attitude is that we can talk at any time. Both sides are World Trade Organization members, and any trade issues will be dealt with in accordance with WTO mechanisms,” said James Hsiao, spokesperson for Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s Lai Ching-te is the frontrunner to be Taiwan’s next president, according to polls. China detests him believing him to be a separatist and has rebuffed repeated offers of talks.

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)