Taiwan’s ruling party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te said on Tuesday he would maintain the status quo and pursue peace through strength if elected, remaining open to engagement with Beijing under the preconditions of equality and dignity.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has cast the island’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday as a choice between peace and war across the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has denounced Vice President Lai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as a separatist and warned that any attempt to push for Taiwan’s formal independence means conflict.
Taiwan’s government rejects China’s sovereignty assertion.
Despite this, Lai pledged to try to engage with China, noting dialogue could decrease cross-straits risks, and that peaceful development is in the best interests of both sides and the world.
“Peace is priceless and war has no winners,” Lai told reporters in a press conference in which he appeared alongside his vice presidential running mate Hsiao Bi-khim.
However, “accepting China’s one-principle proposition is not true peace,” Lai said. “Peace without sovereignty is just like Hong Kong. It is fake peace.”
The DPP and Taiwan’s largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favours close ties with China, have committed to bolstering Taiwan’s defences.
Both say only Taiwan’s 23 million people can decide their future, although the KMT says it strongly opposes independence.
The DPP has emphasised in campaigns the need to win a parliamentary majority. If that does not happen, Lai said, it will be “very difficult” for Taiwan to respond to challenges from China as well as domestic issues.
Lai stressed he would continue the policy direction of incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen, will have served a maximum two terms of office.
Tsai has repeatedly offered talks with China, which Beijing has rejected as it views her as a separatist.
Lai also said if elected, Taiwan would continue to build up its defence deterrence amid geopolitical tensions. Since the last election in 2020, China’s People’s Liberation Army has markedly stepped up military exercises around Taiwan.
“The pursuit of peace relies on strength, not the goodwill of the aggressor,” Lai said, vowing to bolster Taiwan’s military and economic strength.
Hsiao, Taiwan’s high-profile former de facto ambassador to the United States, said that facing the restructuring of the global economy, Taiwan – home to the world’s largest contract chipmaker TSMC (2330.TW) – must maintain its competitiveness and key position in supply chains.
“In order for Taiwan’s economic strength to grow, it is necessary to integrate with the world,” Hsiao said.
Top Chinese leaders have generally avoided public comments on the vote, though Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s address that China’s “reunification” with Taiwan is inevitable.
Lai told reporters the election will serve as a “testament to our commitment to democracy” while also noting that China’s alleged interference in this election has been the “most serious” yet.
Taiwan has cited military and economic pressure and fake news from China as evidence of its attempt to interfere in the election and said it was documenting it and will publish its analysis soon after the vote.
Taiwan has complained over the past month of repeated intrusions by Chinese balloons over the Taiwan Strait, some of which have flown over Taiwan itself. Taiwan’s defence ministry has described the balloons as Chinese psychological warfare, though not directly saying they are for spying purposes.
The ministry said at a separate briefing on Tuesday that they had not recovered any remains of the balloons and were not at the moment considering shooting them down.
“We won’t attack and destroy due to the harassment of the balloons,” said Wang Chia-chun from the ministry’s joint combat planning department.