TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan’s people have to make a choice at next year’s election about whether the island keeps moving forward on the road to democracy or “walks into the embrace of China”, the frontrunner to be the next president said on Tuesday.
The issue of China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, looms large ahead of the Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary elections, especially as Beijing has been stepping up its military pressure against the island.
Lai Ching-te, vice president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate, has led in most opinion polls ahead of the election. The DPP champions Taiwan’s separate identity from China.
The largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favours close ties with Beijing, is locked in a dispute with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) about which of their candidates should run as president and which as vice president after initially agreeing to work together.
Speaking to reporters and supporters after formally registering his candidacy with the election commission, Lai said Taiwan’s security was an international issue and the whole world was watching this election.
“The people of Taiwan have to choose between trusting Taiwan, allowing Taiwan to continue to move forward on the road of democracy, and relying on China, following the old path of the one-China principle, and walking into the embrace of China,” he said.
Beijing has demanded Taipei accepts both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “one China”, which the DPP-led government has rejected saying only the island’s people can decide their future.
Lai on Monday announced Taiwan’s high profile former de facto ambassador the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, as his running mate.
Like Lai, Hsiao is despised by China, which has twice placed sanctions on her, most recently in April, saying she was an “independence diehard”.
Late on Monday, Chinese state television lambasted the Lai-Hsiao team up in a commentary on its website, saying they were “villains colluding together”.
“Taiwan independence means war. The Lai-Hsiao independence double act will intensify cross-strait tensions and conflict,” it said.
Lai on Monday dismissed China’s criticisms, saying it was further proof of Beijing’s efforts to interfere in the election.
Lai, standing next to Hsiao outside the election commission, said he was full of confidence.
“We both deeply love this land, passionately love this country,” he added.
The election registration deadline is Friday. It remains unclear when the opposition will register their candidates.
Vincent Chou, campaign manager for the TPP’s presidential candidate and party chairman Ko Wen-je, told reporters on Tuesday after further talks with the KMT it was “not an option” for them for Ko to be the running mate for the KMT’s Hou Yu-ih.
“But if it’s a Ko-Hou ticket, then everyone can work for this,” Chou said.
Hou, speaking at a separate event, said he would “wait until the last moment” for Ko to make a decision on cooperation.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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