Chinese forces approached close to Taiwan coast to ‘intimidate’ voters before key elections — sources

Chinese forces approached close to Taiwan coast to ‘intimidate’ voters before key elections — sources

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s military drove away four attempts by Chinese forces to approach the island’s sensitive contiguous zone last month, Taiwan security officials said, in what they see as a ramped-up Chinese campaign to “intimidate” voters before key elections.

Taiwan officials have repeatedly warned that China is trying to sway voters toward candidates seeking closer ties with Beijing, whose government has framed the Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary elections as a choice between “peace and war” and urged Taiwanese to make the “right choice”.

Taiwan has complained during the past four years of regular Chinese military incursions as Beijing increases pressure to try to force the democratically governed island to accept its sovereignty.

China has stepped up such missions before Taiwan’s election as campaigning has kicked into high gear, Taiwan security officials and Taipei-based diplomats say.

China’s air and naval forces staged four coordinated manoeuvres approaching Taiwan’s contiguous zone, which is 24 nautical miles (44 km) off its coast, in November, according to multiple Taiwan security officials who discussed the matter with reporters and an internal Taiwanese memo summing up the Chinese activities.

The Chinese military moves were part of a “multi-front campaign of voting interference,” the memo wrote, saying that it also included exchange activities with Taiwan politicians and spreading misinformation to sway public opinion.

The contiguous zone drills were “simulating an intrusion and testing the response of our national military”, said one of the officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Taiwan dispatched forces to drive the Chinese forces away, the source added.

China’s defence ministry and Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment. When commenting on the elections previously, the Taiwan Affairs Office has said it respects Taiwan’s “social systems”.

Chinese activities in November also included balloons that crossed the Taiwan Strait’s sensitive median line for two days in a row, as well as marine research ships approaching close to its contiguous zone off Taiwan’s eastern and western shores, the officials said.

In November, a Chinese commercial tugboat entered Taiwan’s southern territorial waters, which are defined as 12 nautical miles from its coast, according to the sources.

“Through these military and non-military forces, they were making a statement that they can do something to Taiwan anytime while keeping the tensions up,” the official said. “It is evident psychological warfare. They are spreading the message of ‘peace and war’ every day.”

A second Taiwan official described the Chinese maneuvers as part of Beijing’s escalating campaign of “grey zone” warfare seeking to wear Taiwan down with repeated drills and to “intimidate” voters.

“They want to make it look like their prophecy might come true,” the person said, pointing to the narrative that if the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stays in power, a war with China is likely.

Vice President Lai Ching-te and running mate Hsiao Bi-khim from the DPP are leading in the polls. China views them as separatists and has rebuffed Lai’s offers of talks.

In a ratcheting up of tensions about a month before the elections, Taiwan’s defense ministry said 12 Chinese fighter jets and a suspected weather balloon last week crossed the median line.

Taiwan on Monday sent forces to watch a Chinese naval formation, led by the aircraft carrier Shandong, sailing through the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s government is on high alert for what they see as China’s attempts to interfere in the elections by illicitly funding Beijing-friendly candidates using communications apps, group tours or misinformation campaigns, internal security reports reviewed by Reuters show.

Beijing has also sponsored cut-price trips to China for hundreds of local Taiwanese politicians ahead of the elections, Reuters has reported, citing sources and documents. — Reuters