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US Opposes ‘Malign Influence’ in Taiwan’s Elections

By Nike Ching

January 08, 2024

The United States says it opposes “outside interference or malign influence” in Taiwan’s elections, ahead of the island’s hotly contested presidential and legislative elections on January 13.

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan, which is fundamentally at odds with the goal of peace and stability,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA on Monday.

“We have deep confidence in Taiwan’s democratic process and believe it is for Taiwan voters to choose their next leader, free from outside interference,” the spokesperson added.

Washington’s strong words come as China ramps up an intimidation campaign ahead of the ballot, deploying military aircraft and naval vessels near the Taiwan Strait and flying several balloons across Taiwan and near its military bases.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry accused China on Saturday of harassment and waging psychological warfare on the island’s people by repeatedly sending balloons over Taiwan close to the election date.

On Sunday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it detected another three balloons that crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a posting in social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

China asserts Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. A Chinese spokesperson said she was “not aware of the specifics” when asked about the Chinese balloons and the concerns over aviation safety.

"It’s not related to China’s foreign affairs," said Mao Ning, a spokeswoman from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during a briefing on Monday.

China Urges Voters to Make ‘Correct Choice’

Voters on the democratic island of Taiwan head to the polls this Saturday to choose both their president and representatives for parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in an election that is expected to have a vital impact on cross-Strait relations.

A Chinese official responsible for handling ties with Taiwan urged Taiwanese voters to make the “correct choice” in the upcoming election without specifying which candidates or parties China may prefer, though Beijing is widely seen as supporting the opposition Kuomintang or KMT party to win. Some analysts say the election of the China-friendly KMT’s candidates could help promote the resumption of dialogue between both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Zhang Zhijun, the head of China's quasi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, stated in a New Year’s message that people in Taiwan face an important choice “between the prospects for peace and war.”

Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, has framed the election as a choice between democracy and autocracy. Lai, Taiwan’s current vice president, has been labeled by China as a “separatist.”

Presenting his party as the peacemaker, KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih characterizes the election as a choice between “war and peace.”

Seeking to present himself as an alternative to the two main political parties, Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party or TPP has said the relationship between China and Taiwan should be handled with a combination of deterrence and the will to communicate.

As China ramps up its military activity around the island in the run up to the elections, Washington has re-iterated its position that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway and cautioned the Beijing against using Taiwan’s election as a pretext for instability.

“Beijing’s continued provocative actions in the Taiwan Strait are indicative of its unilateral attempts to change the status quo which has preserved global peace and stability for decades," said the State Department spokesperson.

Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS, told VOA that the last thing countries in the Indo-Pacific region want is another crisis. This sentiment is particularly pronounced amid the ongoing Ukraine war and the Gaza conflict.

He added the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan is an important signal and indicator of the credibility and reliability of the U.S. as the security guarantor in the region, more broadly.

Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at CSIS, said China’s escalating military activities are “meant to intimidate” Taiwan but he played down the possibility of an actual military conflict.

“I don’t think they [escalating Chinese military activities] are the beginnings of the intention to actually attack Taiwan or create some other type of crisis through an embargo [in the Taiwan Strait] or other scenario that people have talked about.”

China’s Communist led government has never exercised control over Taiwan but claims sovereignty over the self-ruled democracy.

Taiwan's government rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims and says only the island's 23 million people can decide their future.

The U.S. switched its diplomatic recognition from the government in Taipei to the government in Beijing in 1979. Since then, the U.S. policy has maintained that differences between the two sides should be settled peacefully, and in accordance with the will of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The United States acknowledges but has never endorsed Beijing’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan. Neither does the U.S. support Taiwan independence.



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