‘Won’t let war break out…’: Taiwan’s vice-presidential frontrunner blames China for tensions

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Taiwan's presidential elections will be held on January 13,
Image Source : REUTERS Taiwan’s presidential elections will be held on January 13, 2024.

Taiwan’s ruling party will not let a war break out with China, said the country’s former top diplomat and the frontrunner to becoming its next vice-president. Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s high-profile former de facto ambassador to the United States, blamed China for stirring up tensions as Beijing has stepped up its military incursions to assert its sovereignty claims as the country’s presidential elections approach.

Taiwan’s upcoming presidential elections will be held on January 13 and are set to define the next phase of its relations with China, which considers the self-governed island as part of its territory and has promised to reclaim it by force if necessary. Taiwan has also emerged as a major friction point between the US-China rivalry.

China has also termed current Vice President Lai Ching-te, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate and who is currently leading in the polls, as a dangerous separatist, and called the elections a choice between war and peace, a sentiment echoed by Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT).

Taiwan VP candidates on China

Hsiao said that her opponents have always blamed the DPP for tensions in the Taiwan Strait. “But the whole world knows that the real reason is that China has been expanding outward in an authoritarian posture in recent years, trying to change the existing international order and status quo. Even during the KMT’s rule, the expansion of China’s armaments never stopped,” Hsiao said.

“We are strengthening our defences to avoid war. I want to declare to my compatriots that Lai Ching-te and Hsiao Bi-khim advocate defending the status quo of peace in the Taiwan Strait; we will not let war break out in the Taiwan Strait,” she further said.

Meanwhile, the KMT’s vice presidential candidate Jaw Shaw-kong refused allegations that his party was pro-China. “The DPP do not understand mainland China, and totally do not understand the Communist Party…The DPP are using the China threat as a chip to get them elected, to dupe the electorate,” he added.

He also asserted the need for dialogue between the long-time adversaries and pledged that the KMT would restart dialogue while maintaining Taiwan’s defences. President Tsai Ing-wen and her government have repeatedly offered talks with China but have been rebuffed.

China has denounced Lai and Hsiao as dangerous separatists and described the election as an “internal Chinese affair”. Both the DPP and KMT say only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

China-Taiwan tensions

Taiwan levelled allegations of electoral interference against China ahead of a presidential election next month, as Beijing intensified its military incursions near the self-governed island country. The Taiwanese claimed at least two Chinese balloons flew north of Taiwan on Sunday.

It was the second time this month that Taiwan reported a Chinese balloon near its territory after one crossed southwest of Keelung on December 7. Such incursions occur regularly as a means of advertising China’s threat to use force to annex the self-governing island republic it considers its own territory. 

Last month, China flew as many as 43 military aircraft and seven ships near the self-ruled island, largely seen as an attempt by Beijing to sway Taiwan’s presidential election in January. The ruling DPP, which leans toward formal independence for the island, is anathema to the Chinese government. China backs the Opposition candidates who bat for working with the mainland.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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