Taiwan names ex-foreign minister to head China affairs agency

September 1, 2016 1:06 AM EDT

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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan has named former foreign minister Tien Hung-mao as the new head of a semi-official body responsible for conducting day-to-day business with China after Beijing cut communications with the agency in June amid political tensions.

The appointment of Tien, foreign minister between 2000 and 2002, to head the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) comes as Taipei-Beijing relations remain cool since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as president of Taiwan in May.

China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province, has been unsettled by Tsai's refusal to endorse Beijing's "One China" principle. As well as halting contacts between SEF and its China counterpart, contacts were also suspended between Taiwan's China policy-making body, the Mainland Affairs Council, and China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office, in a statement in response to Tien's appointment, said relations could only improve if Taiwan accepts the so-called "1992 consensus".

That was a deal reached between China's Communists and Taiwan's then-ruling Nationalists, under which both agreed there is only one China, with each having their own interpretation of what that means.

Zhang Zhijun, head of the office, said in a separate statement that ties faced "serious challenges" due to what he called Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party's "vague" attitude on its China policy.

"Taiwan compatriots are broadly worried about this," he said.

Observers said Tien, who currently serves as chairman of the Taiwan's Institute of National Policy Research, may find it tough to re-establish communications with China given the current political climate.

"(The appointment) is not going to help improve the current Taiwan-China ties too much," said Alex Huang, a professor of Tamkang University, Taiwan.

"Within the political circles of Taipei and Beijing, people know Tsai holds her cards very close to her chest. Whoever takes the position will have to do things at the tempo she desires," Huang said.

(Reporting by Faith Hung; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell & Shri Navaratnam)

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