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A photo taken on Dec 10, 2018, shows the Wu Pao Chun Bakery in Shanghai. [Photo/IC]

A star baker from Taiwan became the focal point of a recent cross-Straits dispute when his business expansion efforts on the Chinese mainland sparked the accusation that he was an advocate of "Taiwan independence".

Wu Pao-chun, who won the Master Baker title in the 2010 Bakery Masters competition in Paris, sought to expand his chain of bakeries to Shanghai. During a trial run in December, mainland netizens called for a boycott due to his previous remarks on the mainland market.

In 2016, when asked about his plan for new branches, Wu was quoted by Taiwan media as saying, "Although the mainland market has over 1.3 billion customers, the world"s market has over 7 billion. I won"t keep my eyes only on China."

His words were applauded by pro-independence advocates and were distorted by some media as saying he would rather starve than open a branch on the mainland, sparking the mainland protest of his expansion plan.

Wu later clarified that he was from "Chinese Taiwan" and supported the 1992 Consensus, the understanding Beijing and Taipei reached in 1992 that the two sides belong to one China.

Upset by the clarification, island separatists later started a protest against him. Kaohsiung"s then mayor-elect, Han Kuo-yu, showed up with Wu on Dec 11 in front of Wu"s bakery in the southern port city to back him up.

"Wu is just a baker who wants to develop his business for a better life, so I hope people on both sides can protect and appreciate him." he said, "I don"t see any reason why the two sides couldn"t enjoy the delicious bread together."

Taiwan"s mayoral elections in November took a dramatic turn, with Kuomintang candidate Han defeating his rival from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in Kaohsiung, the DPP"s base for over 20 years.

In his campaign, Han, who described the city as "old and poor" and said it should no longer ignore the mainland market, finally awoke the voting public. He proved unexpectedly popular with his slogan "The goods go out, people come in, and Kaohsiung makes a fortune".

His popularity even spilled over to other KMT candidates, helping them gain support in their election campaigns. Among the 22 county and city chief posts, the KMT won 15 seats and the DPP six.

Aside from the mayoral voting, a "referendum" was held on changing the name under which Taiwan athletes will compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games from "Chinese Taipei" to "Taiwan".

It failed.

Bao Chengke, a professor of Taiwan studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said the failure of the "referendum" is "evidence of Taiwan people"s rejection of "Taiwan independence" and a blow to the DPP".

Zhang Wensheng, a professor of Taiwan politics at Xiamen University, Fujian province, said the fundamental reason for the DPP"s electoral defeat is that it did not satisfy people"s need that they develop the economy and improve livelihoods.

He said people are not satisfied with the Tsai Ing-wen administration"s pro-independence approach that has forced cross-Straits ties into a deadlock, causing many Taiwan industries, including tourism and agricultural exports, to fall behind on the mainland market.

People"s disappointment was particularly reflected in their support for Han and other candidates who declared they would make all-out efforts to develop relations with the mainland to stimulate economic development, he said.

Liu Jieyi, head of the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said in an interview with China Central Television on Monday that in the past year the mainland had taken the lead in the cross-Straits relations and had achieved results in curbing all forms of separatist acts aimed at "Taiwan independence".

Taiwan compatriots are strongly dissatisfied with the DPP authorities" sabotaging cross-Straits relations, and they call for sharing the dividends of peaceful development and improving the economy and people"s livelihood on the island, he said.

"The understanding that only when cross-Straits relations are good can Taiwan prosper has gained greater popularity," he said, adding that facts prove that steady and sound growth of cross-Straits relations is the will of the people.

Cross-Straits exchanges

In the past year, the central government enacted 31 measures to grant Taiwan residents who study, work or start businesses on the mainland the same benefits as those afforded the mainland people, and they are allowed to have mainland residence permits.

Liu said the mainland has actively promoted exchanges between people of the two sides. In the past year, the number of Taiwan residents who visited the mainland exceeded for the first time 6 million-and 400,000 of them were visiting the mainland the first time.

More than 8,000 people participated in the Straits Forum, a grassroots communication activity held in Xiamen, Fujian province, in June. The number of Taiwan students who applied for mainland universities doubled, he said.

Liu said that the one-China principle is universally recognized by the international community.

The attempt of the island authorities to participate in the activities of World Health Assembly and other international organizations has been thwarted. Several countries have severed "diplomatic relations" with Taiwan.

Looking to the year ahead, Liu said the mainland will take stronger control of the trend of cross-Straits relations, and people on both sides will experience closer cooperation and more frequent exchanges.

Although the "Taiwan independence" forces will keep posing obstacles, "we are not afraid at all, and we are fully capable of overcoming all kinds of risks and challenges", he said.

However, Zhang, the Taiwan politics professor, said there are still uncertainties for the political development of Taiwan in the new year and cross-Straits relations are bound to be the focus of the "presidential" campaign discussion. The election for a Taiwan leader is scheduled in 2020.

The DPP will surely try to maximize the impact of the identity issue in the election campaign, while the KMT will put forward developing economy with the mainland, he said, adding that it remains to be seen which side Taiwan residents will choose.

But, ultimately, the election could be viewed as a contest between the Chinese mainland and the United States, a contest of the influence of the mainland and the US in Taiwan, Zhang said.

In the past year, there was frequent official and military interaction between the US and Tsai"s administration, including the signing of the US Taiwan Travel Act, which aims to increase US officials" visits and US arms sales to Taiwan.

Li Peng, head of the Taiwan Research Center, Xiamen University, said amid the current Sino-US trade conflict, it"s obvious that the US is trying to use Taiwan to contain the mainland. The US is blatantly meddling in the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, but it wants the mainland to turn a blind eye to these actions, he said.

It"s a dangerous course, if the US wants to test the mainland"s response by pushing it ever closer to the limit of its tolerance, he said, adding that the Taiwan question involves core interests that the mainland will never compromise.

Liu, the Taiwan Affairs Office director, said the mainland will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity and will do more practical things for the Taiwan compatriots, as always, to improve their sense of gain.

As for Wu, his bakery is in full swing in downtown Shanghai.

"I am a baker and… I just want to make friends through bread," he said.