Disputes over China ties sour Taiwan election campaign

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Disputes over China ties sour Taiwan election campaign

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A man walks past a campaign ad for Hou Yu-ih, a candidate for Taiwan's presidency, from the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) ahead of the presidential election in Taipei City, Taiwan January 2, 2024. ― Reuters pic

TAIPEI, Jan 2 ― Bitter disputes on how to handle relations with China and avoid conflict are dominating the final stretch of election campaigning in Taiwan, as some polls show a tight race between the main two contenders to be the island's next president.

The January 13 presidential and parliamentary elections are taking place against a backdrop of increased pressure from China as Beijing seeks to bolster its sovereignty claims.

As the vote has approached, China has accused Taiwan of unfair trade practices and ended some tariff cuts, while China's military has continued to fly over the Taiwan Strait.

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Both China and Taiwan's largest opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) have framed the vote as a choice between war and peace.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose presidential candidate Lai Ching-te has led in the polls, has attacked the KMT as being Beijing's patsies and for parroting China's line that the DPP threatens peace.

“I tell you all, it is internationally accepted that the risk comes from the Chinese Communist Party, not Taiwan, not the DPP and not Lai Ching-te,” Lai's running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, told the KMT's vice presidential candidate, Jaw Shaw-kong, at a televised debate yesterday.

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The KMT says DPP leaders are dangerous supporters of Taiwan's formal independence. Lai says he will maintain the status quo and has no plans to change Taiwan's official name, the Republic of China.

Jaw, a fiery media personality, told Hsiao, previously Taiwan's high-profile de facto ambassador to the United States, that in the last eight years of the DPP being in charge it had taken Taiwan to the brink of war.

“It's true, the whole world is paying attention to Taiwan, but what are they paying attention to? Whether or not there will be war in the Taiwan Strait. What's brought that? The DPP's policies,” he said.

President Tsai Ing-wen and Lai have repeatedly offered talks with China but have been rebuffed, as Beijing believes they are separatists.

The KMT, which favours closer ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing, says it, like the DPP, will keep boosting Taiwan's defences, but re-engage with China and oppose Taiwan independence.

Both parties say only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

Polls tighten?

New opinion polls cannot be published after midnight on Wednesday, and some have put the KMT's Hou Yu-ih within spitting distance of Lai.

A TVBS poll conducted yesterday put Lai at 33 per cent with Hou at 30 per cent and former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je of the small Taiwan People's Party at 22 per cent. ETtoday on Tuesday put Lai at 38.9 per cent, Hou at 35.8 per cent and Ko at 22.4 per cent.

Some polls have given Lai a much more commanding lead, including one by My Formosa on Saturday that put him 10 points ahead of Hou, a similar result reported by mnews yesterday.

Also at stake is the legislative election; the DPP has a majority in the legislature.

Polls have pointed to no party getting more than 50 per cent of the seats, meaning no matter who wins the presidency, they will have to work with other parties to get legislation passed.

Here, too, the DPP is targeting China, running a television advertisement warning that the KMT's Han Kuo-yu, who lost badly to Tsai in the 2020 presidential election and is running for a legislative seat, could end up as parliament speaker.

“He most likes going here,” the advert says, showing a picture of the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong, which Han visited in 2019 before his candidacy was announced.

Hou says efforts to paint him and the KMT “red” ― the colour of China's Communist Party ― and portray them as pro-China are a nasty smear.

“During the election, I'm painted red every day, and said to be pro-China. But aren't peace, exchanges and dialogue across the Taiwan Strait something that should be done?” he said at a presidential debate on Saturday. ― Reuters

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