TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s people will have to make a decision in next year’s election about whether the island will move further toward democracy or “go into the arms of China,” the leading candidate to become the next president said on Tuesday.
The issue of China claiming Taiwan as its own territory looms large in the run-up to the Jan. 13 presidential and legislative elections, especially as Beijing has stepped up its military pressure against the island.
Lai Ching-te, vice president and presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was leading in most opinion polls before the election. The DPP advocates for Taiwan’s separate identity from China
The main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which has traditionally had close ties with Beijing, is embroiled in a dispute with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party over which of its candidates should run for president and which as vice president, after initially agreeing to cooperate had agreed.
After officially registering his candidacy with the Election Commission, Lai spoke to reporters and supporters and said Taiwan’s security is an international matter and the whole world is watching this election.
“The people of Taiwan must decide whether to trust Taiwan, allow Taiwan to advance further on the path of democracy, or rely on China, follow the old path of the one-China principle and enter the arms of China .” he said.
Beijing has demanded that Taipei accept membership of “one China” on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The DPP-led government rejected this on the grounds that only the island’s people could decide its future.
On Monday, Lai announced Taiwan’s senior former de facto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, as his vice president.
Like Lai, Hsiao is despised by China, which has twice imposed sanctions on her, most recently in April, on the grounds that she is a “tireless independence fighter.”
Late Monday, Chinese state television criticized the Lai Hsiao team in a commentary on its website, saying they were “villains working together.”
“Taiwan’s independence means war. The double act of Lai-Hsiao independence will increase tensions and conflicts across the Taiwan Strait,” it said.
Lai on Monday dismissed China’s criticism, saying it was further evidence of Beijing’s efforts to interfere in the election.
Lai, standing next to Hsiao in front of the election commission, said he was full of confidence.
“We both love this country deeply, love this country passionately,” he added.
Both wore matching lapel badges depicting a cartoon dog and cat, with Lai being a dog lover and Hsiao being a cat lover.
The registration deadline for the elections is Friday. It remains unclear when the opposition will register its candidates.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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