December 18, 2019 / 1:52 PM / a month ago

China fears Taiwan's democracy the most, island's president says in election pitch

TAIPEI (Reuters) - What Communist Party rulers in China fear the most is Taiwan’s democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, describing Beijing as a threat seeking every day to undermine Taiwan and criticizing her main opponent for being too close to China.

(L-R) Taiwan's presidential candidates Tsai Ing-wen, James Soong Chu-yu and Han Kuo-yu pose before first televised election husting in Taipei, Taiwan December 18, 2019. The Central Election Commission/Pool via REUTERS

Tsai, who faces re-election on Jan. 11, has repeatedly warned of the danger posed to self-ruled Taiwan by China, which claims the island as its own territory to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed, a message Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated in January.

Taipei-Beijing relations have soured since Tsai won office in 2016, with China believing she is moving toward a formal declaration of independence for the island. Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent nation, called the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name.

In a live televised pre-election policy address by the three presidential candidates - a debate comes later this month - Tsai accused the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, of cosying up to China, pointing to presidential hopeful Han Kuo-yu’s meeting with senior Chinese officials earlier this year.

“What China fears the most is the unity of Taiwan’s people. What China fears the most is Taiwan’s democracy,” Tsai said. “We must be aware that China is infiltrating and dividing Taiwan’s society in an all-round way.”

Referring to the anti-government protests in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, Tsai said that Taiwan cannot accept “one country, two systems”, the method Beijing uses to rule the city which is meant to grant a high degree of autonomy and which China hopes eventually to apply to Taiwan.

“The situation in Hong Kong makes it very clear to all of us that democracy and authoritarianism are in conflict. The two systems cannot coexist in one country,” she said.

Han, trailing in the polls, said Tsai was being unfair trying to brand him as selling out Taiwan for China, and pointed out she and some of her own senior colleagues had themselves been previously to China to meet top Chinese officials.

“Who dares to say that your team does not love Taiwan?” Han, currently the mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, said, adding his trip was to try to promote Taiwan agricultural exports to China and attract Chinese tourists.

“Why can you go and it’s not selling out Taiwan’s sovereignty, but when I go it is?” he added.

Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party advocates Taiwan’s formal independence, while the Kuomintang, which ruled China before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists, advocates close ties with China.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

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