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The presidential candidate of Taiwan’s largest opposition party has ruled out unification talks with China if he is elected on Saturday, highlighting the improbability of a resolution to the cross-Strait dispute even under a government in Taipei that is more flexible towards Beijing.
Hou Yu-ih, a former police chief and candidate of the Kuomintang, said on Thursday that while the ruling Democratic Progressive party bore some responsibility for the rise in tensions with China in recent years, he harboured no illusions about Beijing’s intentions towards Taiwan.
“Within my term in office, I will not touch the issue of unification. In cross-Strait relations, you cannot just rely on one side,” Hou said, vowing to prioritise strengthening Taiwan’s defences over restarting dialogue with Beijing.
On Thursday, less than 48 hours before the polls open, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned voters against backing Lai Ching-te, the current vice-president and candidate for the DPP, which refuses to define the country as part of China.
“We sincerely hope that the majority of Taiwan compatriots will recognise the extreme danger of the DPP’s ‘Taiwan independence’ line and the extreme danger that Lai Ching-te will trigger cross-Strait confrontation and conflict, that they will make the right choice at this crossroads of cross-Strait relations,” the office said in a statement.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and threatens to annex it by force if Taipei resists unification indefinitely, has frequently denounced Lai, the outgoing president Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP as separatists, but the statement was the most direct warning against a Lai victory.
Analysts said Beijing did not view any mainstream political force in Taiwan in a particularly positive light, but the Chinese Communist party has longstanding exchanges with the KMT, its former adversary in the Chinese civil war and now Taiwan’s largest opposition party.
Chinese authorities have in the past pressured Taiwanese citizens in China to vote for the KMT, which in contrast to the DPP sees Taiwan as part of China, although it disagrees with the CCP over which Chinese state has the right to rule it.
Hou’s rejection of unification talks, an issue he had avoided earlier in the campaign, followed controversial statements by Ma Ying-jeou, a KMT elder who oversaw a thaw in relations with China during his presidency from 2008 to 2016, that trying to defend Taiwan was hopeless.
“No matter how much we defend ourselves, we can never fight a war with the mainland, we can never win,” Ma said in an interview on Wednesday with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
He added that Taiwan needed to trust Chinese leader Xi Jinping and argued that unification was acceptable under Taiwan’s constitution. In his televised new year’s address, Xi said Taiwan’s “reunification” with China was a “historical inevitability”.
Hou said on Thursday that some of Ma’s views were “different” than his own, adding: “The current situation is quite different from when former president Ma was in office . . . relations with China have completely changed.”
A senior KMT politician said Ma’s remarks were likely to hurt Hou’s campaign because only a fraction of Taiwanese are willing to consider the country becoming part of China.
“Those words will again fuel the stereotype that our party is pro-China and will sell the country out to China, which Lai Ching-te has already been peddling,” the politician said.
Hou and his running mate Jaw Shaw-kong stressed their commitment to maintaining increases in defence spending and close ties with the US, which Hou called an “allied country”.
They welcomed plans by the administration of US President Joe Biden to send an unofficial delegation to Taiwan immediately after the election, which was first reported by the Financial Times on Wednesday.
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