US wants status quo, watching Taiwan election for signs of Chinese interference

Supporters of opposition Nationalist Kuomintang Party candidate Han Kuo-yu wave national flags during an election campaign in Taiwan on Jan 7, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Ahead of Taiwan's presidential election on Saturday (Jan 11), the United States is more concerned about the process being free of interference from China rather than about who wins.

Briefing journalists on Tuesday in Washington, a senior State Department official said: "The goal is to encourage a functioning and proven democratic process in Taiwan.

"The US takes no interest in who wins. The fact that the process stays sacrosanct is what's important, as it is in our own election process.

"The key to resolving, addressing issues of external interference in affairs of other countries, such as elections… is basically making the population widely aware of the potential for those things.

"And so as far as I can tell, (Taiwanese) are aware of the potential for that sort of interference," the senior official said.

Incumbent, pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen is the favourite to win, as bloody scenes from the last few months in Hong Kong have punctured the illusion of "one country, two systems" and cast a shadow in Taiwan.

Sydney-based think tank the Lowy Institute said in a paper on Tuesday: "Taiwan has long been seen as important as a proxy for the battle for hegemony between China and the United States in the region.

"The geo-strategic implications of China gaining control of Taiwan are nothing less than transformational, as such an event would signal the definitive end of the US-dominated post-war system in what is now the world's most dynamic economic region."

If China succeeds in undermining Taiwan's now well-established democracy, that would mark a "significant advance in the rise of authoritarian global governance and undermine other democracies in Asia", the paper says.

Ms Yun Sun, senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Programme and director of the China Programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington, told The Straits Times: "The US will say it doesn't have a preference, although people generally believe the US does have a preference - for the incumbent, because the incumbent's position is more in line with the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

"Basically, the election is seen between a party that is pro-unification and a party which is pro-independence.

"The US position is that we support the status quo, and a peaceful resolution. The emphasis is the process between the mainland and Taiwan has to be peaceful and the Chinese mainland cannot use force to change the status quo," she added.

Mr Richard Heydarian, analyst and author of the new book The Indo-Pacific: Trump, China, And The New Struggle for Global Mastery, said: "Taiwan is where the sharp edge of China's sharp power is most apparent."

Speaking to ST at an event in Washington on Tuesday, he said China had cultivated apolitical influencers in Taiwan.

"Taiwan is going to tell us a lot about China's election interference," he added.

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