TAIWAN • China has been relentless in its attempts to influence and infiltrate Taiwan's politics and society, but the island's new ban on political interference should have no effect on normal exchanges between the two sides, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said in her New Year's Day address.
The Anti-Subversion Law, which obtained a third and final approval in Taiwan's legislature yesterday, aims to prevent illegal campaign contributions, the staging of political events, the spread of misinformation and other acts by foreigners that could affect Taiwan's elections or the work of government.
It was denounced by the opposition and by China's Cabinet as overly broad and an attack of exchanges between the two sides.
But the Taiwanese leader defended it as having no effect on normal interactions.
The law's passage "won't have any effect on freedom or violate human rights and won't influence normal commercial exchanges", she said. "It will simply provide greater guarantees for Taiwan's freedom and democracy."
Given China's similar actions in other countries, Taiwan's failure to prevent interference could give the impression it is untroubled by Beijing's actions, she added.
"Under Chinese pressure and with the constant Chinese infiltration and interference, we really needed this law to make Taiwan a safer place and to prevent social divisions arising from infiltration and interference," Ms Tsai said, citing the protests in Hong Kong as proof that its governing framework, which Beijing proposes for Taiwan, is untenable.
"China's goal is very clear, and that is to compel Taiwan to make concessions on the question of sovereignty under duress. Yet, in Hong Kong, where 'one country, two systems' is in effect, the situation has just gotten worse and worse. Democracy and authoritarianism cannot coexist in the same country," she said.
Taiwan would emphasise in the year ahead that China's policies cause instability in the Taiwan Strait, and that Taiwan would not exchange sovereignty for short-term economic gains.
China has repeatedly offered benefits to Taiwanese who choose to work and study on the mainland, and hundreds of thousands are believed to have taken advantage of the lower costs and greater opportunities in the Chinese market.
But recent surveys still show that around 80 per cent of Taiwanese reject the idea of political union with China, with most backing the island's current status of de facto independence.
President Tsai is favoured to win a second term during elections for president and the legislature on Jan 11. Her re-election would likely cause Beijing to intensify its campaign of economic, military and diplomatic pressure over her refusal to agree to Beijing's claim that Taiwan is a piece of Chinese territory that must be reclaimed.
In Beijing, the head of the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, Mr Liu Jieyi, warned of "serious damage" to Taiwanese interests if the island's government did not fall in line with China's demands.
"The bright prospect for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations needs the joint efforts by compatriots on both sides across the strait and needs Taiwan compatriots to correctly grasp (the situation)."
While he restated China's contention that unification between the two sides is inevitable, he did not reiterate Beijing's threat to bring that about by force.
In his New Year's Eve address, President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping also avoided repeating his previous references to the military option, possibly in hopes of not further alienating voters from the China-friendly opposition parties.