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Taiwan election hopeful William Lai says KMT’s embrace of ‘one China’ is dividing island

  • Vice-president and DPP candidate suggests a win for his main rival, Hou Yu-ih, could spell disaster

  • Lai says Kuomintang used to be anti-communist but senior figures are now trying to placate Beijing

By Lawrence Chung in Taipei

December 27, 2023

Taiwan’s presidential front runner William Lai Ching-te has claimed his Kuomintang rival’s embrace of the Communist Party and “one China” is dividing the self-ruled island.

Lai, vice-president and candidate for the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party in next month’s election, made the remarks in a televised pitch to voters on Wednesday.

He suggested that a victory for his KMT rival Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of New Taipei City, could spell disaster for Taiwan.

“The KMT’s deadly embrace of the one-China shrine has not only created an identity divide in our country but also affected our national unity,” Lai said of the main opposition party, which is seen as Beijing-friendly.

He said the KMT used to be anti-communist but senior figures in the party such as chairman Eric Chu Li-luan and former president Ma Ying-jeou – known for his efforts to engage Beijing – were now trying to placate mainland China.

“First, instead of countering the communists, they now befriend the communists. Second, while claiming they will safeguard the Republic of China [ROC] they at the same time oppose arms purchases and even boycott indigenisation of our national defence,” Lai said, using the official name for Taiwan.

The KMT – which once controlled mainland China as the government of the ROC – was defeated in a civil war with the Communist Party in 1949 and fled to Taiwan where it set up an interim government.

It had vowed to one day retake mainland China but gave that up in the 1970s following the death of leader Chiang Kai-shek. His son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, then shifted the focus to building up Taiwan.

The KMT supports the one-China principle – an understanding between Beijing and Taipei that there is only “one China” but that each side has its own interpretation of what that means. But the ruling DPP refuses to accept the principle, and as a result relations with Beijing – which sees the island as part of its territory – have deteriorated under Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s current president.

Lai said the KMT ignored the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping no longer accepted the existence of the ROC and that Xi had vowed to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control.

He also said the KMT was trying to scare voters by suggesting they had a choice between “war or peace” – that a DPP victory would mean war with Beijing, while a KMT win would bring peace to the island.

Lai described his main rival as a political “outsider” and said all of Hou’s policies and views during the campaign had come from the KMT and its leaders, including Ma and Chu.

“A victory for Hou would mean the return of the one-China force and corruption, which absolutely would undermine the future of Taiwan,” Lai said, referring to corruption in the KMT when it was in power.

Lai’s remarks came after Hou called on him – during the first televised policy debate last week – to renounce his and the DPP’s pro-independence stand.

Responding to Lai’s claims on Wednesday, Hou said there was nothing wrong with promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.

“I have said that the ROC constitution is the sacred mountain for safeguarding cross-strait [peace],” Hou said, adding that the Taiwan independence advocated by Lai would make peace impossible to achieve.

Beijing has not ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and has warned that any attempt at independence would lead to an attack.

Marking 130 years since the birth of People’s Republic of China founder Mao Zedong on Tuesday, Xi called cross-strait unification an “overall trend, a righteous cause, and the common aspiration of the people”.

Washington – Taipei’s informal ally and biggest arms supplier – has asked Beijing to stop interfering in Taiwan’s presidential election and to refrain from using military drills near the island to intimidate voters. The United States, like most countries, does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state but is opposed to any unilateral change of the cross-strait status quo.

Taiwan’s presidential vote will be held alongside legislative elections on January 13. Lai is currently ahead in the polls, followed by Hou and Ko Wen-je, the former Taipei mayor and head of the Taiwan People’s Party.



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