China warns against Taiwan independence ‘plots’ ahead of election

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China’s military has vowed to “smash” any Taiwan independence “plots”, sending a stark reminder of its threat to use force against the island just hours before Taiwanese voters head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament.

The People’s Liberation Army “remains on high alert at all times”, a Chinese defence ministry spokesman said at a regular press conference on Friday afternoon.

The military would “take all necessary measures to resolutely smash ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist plots in any form and resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he added.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack it if Taipei rejects unification indefinitely. Beijing has denounced the ruling Democratic Progressive party — which refuses to describe the country as a part of China — as dangerous separatists and warned voters against electing its candidate, current vice-president Lai Ching-te, on Saturday.

Lai is seen as the frontrunner against a divided opposition. He is standing against Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang, which is the largest opposition party and sees Taiwan as part of China but disagrees with Beijing over which state represents that nation, and Ko Wen-je, founder of the Taiwan People’s party, which appeals to swing voters.

Responding to a question about Taipei’s potential procurement of more F-16 fighter jets from the US, the Chinese defence ministry spokesman accused the DPP of “spending the money the Taiwanese people earned with their blood and sweat on American weapons to serve their selfish interests”. This could “not stop the trend of complete unification of the motherland”, he said.

Senior Taiwanese national security officials said they did not expect Beijing to stage large-scale military manoeuvres immediately after Saturday’s polls, but that China was certain to increase its pressure on the country.

One senior official said the PLA was not likely to launch large exercises around Taiwan similar to those carried out in response to a visit to Taipei by then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2022 because of rough seas at this time of year and because Chinese leader Xi Jinping was in the midst of a purge of military officials. “But we may see such moves once we get into spring, in March or April, when their exercise season starts,” he added.

Taiwanese officials said Beijing could increase pressure on Taipei in the coming weeks following the election by inviting newly elected members of the legislature to visit and trying to build relationships with them.

The DPP is expected to lose its majority in parliament at elections also being held on Saturday and the legislature’s new term starts on February 1, more than three months ahead of the new president’s inauguration.

Officials from all three campaigns have said a majority of voters are tired of the DPP after eight years in office and that many are impatient for policies that could more effectively tackle structural economic and social issues such as high housing costs and low wages in the service sector.

However, electioneering has been dominated by fierce arguments over how to deal with China as Beijing has stepped up military intimidation, economic pressure and disinformation against the country.

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