Taiwan | Final rallies on the eve of a crucial election

(Taipei) “Peace, not war”: tens of thousands of Taiwanese attended the latest rallies on Friday evening, on the eve of a presidential election under growing pressure from Beijing, which claims sovereignty of the island.

Three men are vying for the presidency in this one-round election: outgoing Vice President Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the small People’s Party of Taiwan (TPP).

“China says the election is a choice between war and peace,” a 24-year-old student told the DPP rally.

But “this is a false proposition, because whether there is a war or not, it does not depend on us,” he added, giving only his last name, Chen.

“We want peace, not war,” also proclaimed the colorful signs brandished by supporters at the KMT rally, not far away.

The territory of 23 million inhabitants, located just 180 kilometers from the Chinese coast, is hailed as a model of democracy in Asia. But it is in the sights of Beijing, which considers it as one of its provinces to be attached to the rest of the country, by force if necessary.

On Thursday, China called on Taiwan’s voters to make “the right choice”, criticizing the “serious danger” represented by Lai Ching-te, given as a favorite, for his positions in favor of independence.

“This election arouses increased interest, in particular because the geopolitical context of the region has evolved very significantly since the last elections of 2020, especially in terms of military, political and informational coercion of China with regard to Taiwan,” explains Marc Julienne, head of China activities at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).

“The China/United States/Taiwan triangle is becoming increasingly tense.”

“Sovereign State”

The status of Taiwan is one of the most explosive subjects in the rivalry between China and the United States, the territory’s primary military supporter, and Washington plans to send an “informal delegation” to the island after the vote .

On Friday, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken was due to meet Liu Jianchao, head of the international division of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, in Washington.

The United States “believes that it is up to Taiwan’s voters to decide their next leader freely and without outside interference,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

All week, Beijing has increased its diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. On Thursday, five Chinese balloons again crossed the median line separating the archipelago from China, according to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, which also spotted ten planes and six warships.

The United States warned China against reacting to the outcome in the form of “more military pressure or coercive actions.”

Beijing told them not to “meddle in the elections (…) in order to avoid seriously damaging Sino-American relations”.

If the KMT, the main opposition party, advocates rapprochement with China, the DPP claims that Taiwan is already a de facto independent state.

“Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state,” assures Monica, a 48-year-old Lai Ching-te supporter. “This is why we are electing our next president.”

“Taiwan does not belong to China,” adds another voter, Sylvia, 31 years old. “In fact we are already independent, not in law.”

“Military action”

Since 2016, Beijing has cut off all high-level communication with Taiwan to protest the election of the current president, Tsai Ing-wen, also of the DPP.

“China fears that a re-elected DPP administration under the leadership of Lai will come out in favor of formal independence for Taiwan, a measure that Beijing threatens to prevent with military action,” underlines James Crabtree, expert at the Council European Union of International Relations (ECFR).

But “the increased tensions around Taiwan pose a real problem for Washington, which seeks to defuse its own tensions with China”.

On Tuesday, Lai Ching-te promised to keep the door open for dialogue with China, but warned: “Accepting the Chinese principle of ‘one China’ is not true peace.” Peace without sovereignty is just like Hong Kong. It’s a false peace.”

“We must express to China our wish to communicate,” said Ko Wen-je of the TPP on Thursday. But “we want to preserve our democracy, our freedom and our way of life”.

“Whatever China thinks, what public opinion in Taiwan wants us to do is maintain the status quo,” promised Hou Yu-ih of the KMT.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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