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China Meddles In Taiwan’s Presidential Election With False Framing About ‘Peace And War’

Taiwan’s 22 million residents must recognize the harsh reality that a war is coming and choose a leader who is ready to navigate such a challenge.

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The first consequential election of 2024 will take place on Jan. 13, when millions of Taiwanese go to the polls to choose the island’s next president. Communist China framed the election as a choice between “peace and war.” It’s false framing and overt election interference. Frankly, China will likely invade Taiwan regardless of whoever is elected.

Currently, three candidates are running for the office of president. The front-runner is Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai Ching-te, who is a candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Trailing behind Lai are Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Hou and Ko are considered Beijing-friendly because they advocate for engagement and cooperation with Beijing. The TPP, founded in 2019, is not as influential as the KMT because the KMT has a long history of governing Taiwan, including being the island’s ruling party between 1949 and the early 1990s. Additionally, Hou of the KMT promised to adhere to the “One China” policy, which was enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of China (an official name of Taiwan). Although the KMT and Beijing have different interpretations of the “One China” policy (each side believes it is the only legitimate representative of China), Beijing regards the acknowledgment of the “One China” concept as a prerequisite for any cross-strait engagement. Therefore, Beijing has made it known that its preferred candidate is Hou.

Beijing Against DPP’s Lai

Beijing doesn’t hide its resentment toward Lai of the DPP. It brands the DPP as a pro-independent “separatist” party because the DPP’s charter states that it aims to “establish a sovereign, independent, and autonomous Republic of Taiwan.” Beijing also sees past DPP leaders’ emphasis on teaching Taiwan’s history and culture in schools as covert moves toward independence. Beijing is especially concerned about the DPP’s popularity with Taiwan’s younger generation, which favors identifying as Taiwanese and rejecting Beijing’s forced “unification,” which they see as an annexation of their homeland.

Beijing has tried to terrorize Taiwanese voters for voting for the DPP in the past. For example, in 2016, the People’s Liberation Army fired missiles into water near Taiwan after current President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP won her first presidential election. During his campaign, Lai reportedly clarified that he would not seek Taiwan’s independence if elected. President Tsai, also the head of the DPP, made a similar pledge during her campaign and has taken a “moderate and responsible” stance to maintain the status quo once in office. Lai’s supporters pointed to President Tsai’s record as evidence that the DPP is not a “separatist” party and Lai is not a “troublemaker.” Still, Beijing has conducted overt and covert election interference to ensure Lai will not be elected.

CCP Favors KMT’s Hou

Overtly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken both political and military moves to convey whom Taiwanese should vote for. Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, admonished the Taiwanese to “vote correctly” in his New Year’s address, implying that a victory for the KMT means peace and economic prosperity. In contrast, a victory for the DPP means war and economic decline.

A German think tank criticized such a framing as “an oversimplification and, at worst, a complete distortion.” Remember that the CCP and the KMT fought a bitter Civil War between 1945 and 1949, which resulted in the political divide between Taiwan and the mainland. 

Recently, China’s military has stepped up its intimidation of Taiwan, including sending Chinese fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone daily and conducting frequent military exercises near the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense also reports the sighting of China’s spy balloons (similar to the ones floated in U.S. airspace last year) flying over the island.

Beijing Meddling in Taiwan’s Politics

Taiwanese authorities are well aware that Beijing has a long history of meddling with Taiwan’s politics covertly as well. In late 2019, Wang “William” Liqiang, a self-identified Chinese spy, claimed he was personally involved in meddling with Taiwan’s 2018 election by “creating more than 20 media and internet companies to launch ‘targeted attacks,’ and spending roughly $200 million over an unspecified period to invest in television stations in Taiwan.”

Wang also alleged that he funneled $2.8 million on behalf of Beijing to help Han Kuo-yu of the KMT in 2018’s Kaohsiung mayoral election because Beijing wanted to use Han to break the DPP’s stronghold in southern Taiwan, where Kaohsiung is located. Han denied ever receiving any campaign contributions from Beijing. Still, he acknowledged that it was no secret Beijing “had been trying to influence Taiwan’s elections for years.”

Many suspected Beijing’s election interference was responsible for the DPP’s landslide loss in local elections in 2018. Taiwan’s legislature passed the Anti-Infiltration Act in December 2019, hoping to fend off Beijing’s covert political interference.

Still, the CCP’s election meddling, especially its warning that voting for Lai of the DPP is voting for war, seems to have worked, as Lai’s lead over Hou has shrunk recently. According to Politico, “Beijing-leaning United Daily News put both candidates on 31 percent.” But any voters who believe voting for the KMT candidate will ensure Taiwan’s peace and prosperity is delusional.

Beijing Sees Democratic Taiwan as a Threat

Regardless of which candidate of what party is elected to govern Taiwan, Beijing sees a democratic Taiwan as a threat to the CCP’s legitimacy. It must thus be eliminated because a free and prosperous Taiwan discredits Beijing’s claims that Chinese culture and democracy are inherently incompatible and that the Chinese people can have peace and prosperity only under the CCP’s totalitarian rule. 

Beijing initially envisioned a so-called “peaceful” reunification; that is, Taiwan would surrender under the weight of China’s constant economic and political pressure and relentless military intimidation without the PLA firing any shots. But Beijing’s hope has faded away as surveys have shown that the majority of Taiwanese have no desire to “unite” with mainland China, especially after Beijing’s ruthless crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement since 2020. About two-thirds of the Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo of Taiwan’s political separation from the mainland. This is a political reality that no party will be able to reverse. 

Xi Jinping, head of the CCP, probably realized that force may be his only option to solve the “Taiwan problem,” which was one of the main reasons he invested so much in the modernization of China’s Navy. Xi sees it as his legacy to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2050, including annexing Taiwan. Some suspect Xi may launch the invasion as early as this year to take advantage of the overstretched U.S. military and U.S. foreign policy setbacks under the Biden administration.

Xi has been increasingly vocal about his resolve to conquer Taiwan. NBC reported that Xi warned U.S. President Joe Biden at the San Francisco summit last fall that China would “reunite” with Taiwan no matter what. At a symposium to mark the 130th anniversary of CCP founder Mao Zedong’s birth on Dec. 26, Xi stated that “realizing China’s complete reunification is an inevitable trend.” Xi also declared that the CCP must resolve “the Taiwan question in the new era.” Xi’s recent annual New Year address “reiterated his claim that Taiwan would ‘surely be reunified’ with China,” the BBC reported.

Therefore, Taiwan’s upcoming election is not about a choice between war and peace. Regardless of the outcome, Xi will invade Taiwan sooner or later. A DPP victory probably will offer Xi a pretext to launch the invasion sooner. Taiwan’s 22 million residents must recognize the harsh reality that a war is coming and choose a leader who is ready to lead them through such a challenge.


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