US opposes ‘malign influence’ in Taiwan’s elections

‘We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against’ the democratic island

The United States opposes “outside interference or malign influence” ahead of Taiwan’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 US 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.

It has also flown several balloons across the island and near military bases.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry accused Beijing of harassment and waging psychological warfare on the Taiwanese people by repeatedly sending over balloons close to the election date.

Twenty-four hours later, the ministry said it detected another three balloons that crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a posting on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Vital impact

China asserts Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory. 

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said she was “not aware of the specifics” when asked about the balloons and the concerns over aviation safety.

“It’s not related to China’s foreign affairs,” Mao Ning said during a briefing on Monday.

Voters on the democratic island head to the polls on 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.

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A Chinese official responsible for handling ties with Taiwan urged voters to make the “correct choice” in the upcoming election without specifying which candidates or parties China may prefer.

Still, Beijing is widely seen as supporting the opposition Kuomintang or KMT party. 

Some analysts say the election of the China-friendly KMT 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 Taiwanese people face an important choice “between the prospects for peace and war.”

The island’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.”

Political parties

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 reiterated its position that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway.

It has also cautioned 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,” the State Department spokesperson said.

Victor Cha, a 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. 

China continues to blur the lines when it comes to Taiwan. Photo: Shutterstock

This sentiment is particularly pronounced amid the ongoing Ukraine war and the Gaza conflict.

He added Washington’s commitment to defend Taiwan is an important signal and indicator of the credibility and reliability of the US 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 scenarios that people have talked about,” Kennedy said.

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

Sovereignty claims

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

The US switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

Since then, American 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 US support Taiwan’s independence.

Nike Ching is the VOA State Department Bureau Chief.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.