Photo/Illutration In this Oct. 10, 2021, file photo, a woman holds up Taiwan national flags during National Day celebrations in front of the Presidential Building in Taipei. (AP Photo)

TAIPEI--The chairman of a Taiwanese conglomerate said on Tuesday he does not support independence from China after Beijing fined his company in an apparent warning to it and other businesses to tow the mainland’s line on its sovereignty claims.

China took aim last week at Taiwan’s Far Eastern Group, which has interests ranging from hotels to petrochemicals, for a series of problems, from tax to fire safety, with fines totaling 474 million yuan ($74.4 million).

While China has not directly said the company is guilty of supporting independence for the Chinese-claimed island, government statements on the fines have warned Taiwanese firms they could not expect to operate in China and support independence.

In an open letter to Taiwan’s United Daily News, Far Eastern Chairman Douglas Hsu said that “under the current political atmosphere in Taiwan” certain public opinions put “a sense of guilt” on Taiwanese firms investing in China, which was unnecessary.

In recent years, many opinion polls showed most Taiwanese support maintaining the current status quo across the Taiwan Strait, he said.

“Like most Taiwanese, I hope that cross-strait relations ‘maintain the status quo.’ I have always opposed Taiwan independence,” he said.

Hsu said while Taiwanese companies were unable to resolve the political difficulties, they have always hoped for peace and “normal exchanges and interactions”.

China has heaped pressure on the island to accept Beijing’s rule. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan will not bend to pressure, and that she will defend Taiwan’s democracy and freedom.

China said earlier this month it would hold those who support the island’s formal independence, including companies, criminally liable.

Asked to comment on Hsu’s remarks and if he had been forced into making them by China, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters that China was “always rude and unreasonable, and does not understand democracy, plurality or respect.”

Even China’s own business elites could be vanished or punished, he added.

“It’s even the case for the prettiest female stars,” Su said, in possible reference to tennis player Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have caused international concern after she alleged that a former top Chinese official had sexually assaulted her.