BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday described landmark Taiwan protests against Nationalist troops in 1947 as part of China's liberation struggle that Taiwan independence forces were trying to hijack, ahead of commemorations next week for the 70th anniversary.
The "228 Incident", as it is known in Taiwan, has in recent years become a rallying point for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favors formal independence for the democratic, self-ruled island China claims at its own.
Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops put down rioting sparked on Feb. 28, 1947, by a dispute between tobacco agents and a cigarette vendor in Taipei.
That led to island-wide protests against the Nationalists, who two years later took refuge on Taiwan after losing a civil war to the Communists and imposed martial law on Taiwan until 1987, ruling with an iron fist and locking up dissidents.
An Fengshan, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said the "228 Incident" was a "just action" by people in Taiwan against dictatorship and to fight for their basic rights.
"It is part of the Chinese people's liberation struggle," An told a regular news briefing.
"For a long time, this incident has been used by certain Taiwan independence forces for ulterior motives," he added.
"They have distorted historical fact, instigated contradictions based on provincial origin, tearing at Taiwan's ethnic groups, creating antagonism in society," An said. "I think the motives behind this are really despicable."
Feb. 28 is a national holiday in Taiwan, marked by solemn ceremonies for the dead and affirmations from politicians and the sitting president for Taiwan's vibrant democracy.
China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who won election last year, suspected she and her party want to push for the island's formal independence, a red line for Beijing. Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China.
Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in wanting to be ruled by autocratic China.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)