The administration warns China against “additional military pressure” targeting the island post-election.
By Phelim Kine
January 11, 2024
Supporters attend a Kuomintang (KMT) campaign rally ahead of Taiwan's presidential election in Taipei on Dec. 23, 2023. | I-Hwa Cheng/AFP via Getty Images
The White House is warning that the Chinese government is trying to influence the result of Taiwan’s presidential election on Saturday through disinformation and misinformation operations.
“It is no secret that Beijing has views on the outcome of the election and is trying to shape and coerce in various different ways,” a senior administration official granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record told reporters in a virtual press briefing on Wednesday.
That’s an implicit reference to the electoral race between Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te and Hou Yu-ih of the opposition Kuomintang Party which is anti-independence and favors closer ties with Beijing. The most recent polls showed Lai leading Hou by between 3 and 11 percentage points, but there’s still the possibility of an upset by Hou. A third-party candidate, Ko Wen-je, who trails both Lai and Hou, also supports cozier relations with Beijing.
China’s threats to Taiwan have overshadowed pocketbook issues — including housing prices and inflation — in the election, which also includes races for the island’s 113 legislative seats. U.S. assessments of a possible Chinese invasion attempt by as early as 2027 have fanned those fears.
Beijing’s efforts to sway the vote include “attempts to try to shape the information environment or to put economic pressure on the island through announcements of tariff changes that we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks,” the official said. The administration sees a familiar pattern in the influence campaign. “This has been a longstanding practice of Beijing … what we’re seeing is consistent with what we have seen in the past,” the official said.
The White House is confident that those efforts won’t affect poll results and warned China against intimidation tactics targeting the island after the election. “Beijing will be the provocateur should it choose to respond with additional military pressure or coercion,” the official said.
The Chinese government pushed back on the White House’s messaging. “China deplores and strongly opposes the U.S.’s unwarranted comments on Taiwan’s elections,” the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said in a statement on Thursday. Taiwan’s diplomatic outpost in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.