US urges China to cease Taiwan pressure; Lai slams election interference

Taiwanese officials slam China’s war games around island as a bid to intimidate voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.

A sailor monitors China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy frigate Xuzhou from Taiwan's guided missile frigate Tian Dan at an undisclosed location, in this handout image provided by Taiwan Navy August 20, 2023.
A sailor monitors China's People's Liberation Army Navy frigate Xuzhou from Taiwan's guided missile frigate Tian Dan at an undisclosed location in this handout image provided by Taiwan Navy August 20, 2023 [Taiwan Navy/Handout via Reuters]

The United States has urged China to stop pressuring Taiwan after Beijing launched war games around the self-ruled island as a “stern warning” over Taiwanese Vice President William Lai’s recent stopovers in New York and San Francisco.

The statement came as Taiwan said on Sunday that some 25 Chinese air force planes had crossed the Taiwan Straits median line over the past 24 hours.

That included Su-30 and J-11 fighter jets, according to a map the ministry published, though there was no immediate sign China was continuing its exercises for a second day.

In a statement to the Reuters news agency, a spokesperson for the US Department of State said it would continue to monitor China’s exercises closely, and urged Beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan”.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with the ruling Communist Party in control of the mainland. Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China, but Beijing sees the democratically-governed island as a breakaway province to be taken by force if necessary.

While the US does not maintain official ties with Taiwan, Washington is Taipei’s biggest source of weapons, and its political and military support for the territory has been a constant source of friction in its relations with Beijing.

China has decried official contact between the US and Taiwan and launched its largest military drills around the island in recent years in August 2022, when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. Beijing also held large-scale combat readiness drills in August in response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with current US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a transit through California.

Analysts said China’s drills on Saturday – which Beijing said involved the coordination of vessels and planes and their ability to seize control of air and sea spaces – were much more low-key than two rounds of war games in April and August.

Singapore-based defence analyst Alexander Neill told Reuters that it appeared China had calibrated the scale of the drills to make a point but not to upset broader diplomatic efforts as Beijing and Washington try to re-engage. These efforts include potential plans for Chinese and US presidents to meet at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit later in the year.

“I think after recent bilateral engagement China probably doesn’t want to rock the boat too much before APEC in San Francisco,” said Neill, an adjunct fellow of Hawaii’s Pacific Forum think tank.

Officials in Taiwan have meanwhile described China’s recent war games as a pretext to intimidate voters ahead of the island’s presidential elections next year.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai, the frontrunner in the January election, said in an interview broadcast late on Saturday that it was not up to China to decide who wins the election.

“It’s not who China likes today, and then they can assume the post. This goes against the spirit of Taiwan’s democracy, and represents huge damage to Taiwan’s democratic system,” he said in the interview that was conducted while he was in New York last week.

China should not “make a fuss over nothing” when it comes to foreign travel by Taiwanese leaders, Lai said.

“My position is that Taiwan is not a part of the People’s Republic of China. We are willing to link up with the international community and talk to China under the guarantee of security.”

China has for many years wanted to “annex” Taiwan and this is not something that started under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, he said, pointing to battles along the Chinese coast in the 1950s when China seized Taiwan-controlled islets.

“This election is not a choice between peace and war. We can’t order off a menu, choosing peace and then there’s peace, choosing war and then there’s war. That’s not the case,” he added.

“What it is is that we have the right to choose whether we want democracy or autocracy. This is the real choice we have to make in this election.”

A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Presidential Office also accused China of trying to influence the island’s election by sparking fears and condemned the provocation in a Facebook post. Olivia Lin said on Saturday that the international community has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait and urged China to stop such moves.

Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, also wrote on the X platform that China “has made it clear it wants to shape” the island’s national election.

“It’s up to our citizens to decide, not the bully next door,” he wrote.

Source: News Agencies