Taiwan Sees Shake-up of Presidential Candidates As Solomon Islands Severs Ties

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Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen denounces Beijing's 'dollar diplomacy' after Solomon Islands breaks ties with Taiwan, Sept. 16, 2019.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen denounces Beijing's 'dollar diplomacy' after Solomon Islands breaks ties with Taiwan, Sept. 16, 2019.

Former Taiwan vice-president Annette Lu on Tuesday threw her hat into the ring ahead of presidential elections next year, as Beijing warned the democratic island that it could face total isolation on the world stage if it votes for incumbent and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen.

Lu, who will represent the pro-independence party Formosa Alliance, said her aim in running would be offer Taiwan's 23 million inhabitants a "third choice" alternative to the DPP and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

Her announcement came just one day after the Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan, a sovereign state under the Republic of China regime founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1911, to Beijing.

Taiwan responded to the move by accusing China of "dollar diplomacy" and trying to influence the island's forthcoming presidential and legislative elections.

The Solomon Islands was the sixth country to cut off ties with Taipei, a prerequisite for diplomatic relations with Beijing, since Tsai became president in 2016.

Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, now has formal relations with only 16 countries, including Belize and Nauru.

Tsai said her attempts to carve out a higher international profile for Taiwan in the face of strong opposition from China would continue, however.

"Over the past few years, China has continually used financial and political pressure to suppress Taiwan's international space," Tsai said, calling the Chinese move "a brazen challenge and detriment to the international order."

"I want to emphasise that Taiwan will not engage in dollar diplomacy with China in order to satisfy unreasonable demands," she said.

China's foreign ministry said the decision by the Solomon Islands was "part of an irresistible trend."

Inspired by Hong Kong

Annette Lu said she had been partly inspired to join the presidential race by the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, which has been largely fueled by public anger over the erosion of the city's traditional rights and freedoms under China's "one country, two systems" framework that it also wants to use to rule Taiwan.

The majority of Taiwanese have scant interest in being annexed by Beijing, however, and Tsai has repeatedly vowed to protect the island's sovereignty.

"I often find myself weeping unstoppable tears when I see people in Hong Kong, young and old alike, who keep on fighting for their own future," Lu told a news conference on Tuesday.

"And I feel proud when young people in Hong Kong repeatedly say they admire Taiwan."

As Lu announced her plans to seek nomination as an independent candidate, another independent hopeful, Taiwan's richest man, said he wouldn't be standing as an independent after quitting the KMT last week.

"I never announced I would run for president purely for myself: it was also in the interests of my party and political faction," Foxconn boss and billionnaire Terry Gou said.

"But I no longer wish to participate because of the vicious atmosphere of this election and the populism that prevails," Gou said. "I also have no wish to see my supporters get bullied."

'Platform for personal gain'

Gou, who announced earlier this year that the Goddess Matsu had told him to run, lost the KMT primaries to Han Kuo-yu.

Last Thursday, he quit the KMT after 49 years, calling his former allies "corrupt" and a "platform for personal gain and power."

"Only with a return to rationality, pragmatism, and responsibility can we find the right future for the next generation," he said.

Taiwan opinion pollster Tai Li-an said Gou's decision would mean a more traditional presidential battle between Tsai as a progressive "green" candidate emphasising the island's democracy and sovereignty and Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu as a traditional, pro-China, pro-trade representative of the "blue" camp.

"Right now, Tsai Ing-wen is polling with support of 45 to 50 percent if she goes head to head with Han, who currently polls at 30 to 35 percent," Tai said.

He said the three-month-long anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong had resulted in a surge of distrust of Han as the pro-China candidate, which reached 63 percent at the end of last month.

Tsai has meanwhile benefited greatly from the Hong Kong protests, of which she has been a vocal supporter, and the Sino-U.S. trade war.

Fan Shiping, a professor of political science at Taiwan National Normal University, said Lu would likely turn out to be an also-ran.

"Her political power is probably not a quarter of [Taipei mayor] Ko Wen-je's," Fan said. "It's not entirely clear why she has come out to announce she will stand, so it's hard to see how it can be authentic."

"She will also be seen as a traitor to [her former party], the DPP."

Political infiltration, influence

Taiwan's national security agency has repeatedly warned of growing attempts to flood Taiwan with propaganda and disinformation ahead of presidential elections in 2020, and to infiltrate its polity using Beijing-backed media and political groups.

Lawmakers say the country is doing all it can to guard against growing attempts at political infiltration and influence by the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department in Taiwan.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China. The Republic of China is already a sovereign and independent state which controls the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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