| 25 February 2024, Sunday |

China pressures Taiwan with trade accusations and warplanes a month before election

China on Friday pressured Taiwan with a trade barrier probe and warplanes in the Taiwan Strait a month before the island holds key elections, as Taipei called on Beijing to stop its “political operations”.

The Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary elections are taking place as China, which views the island as its own territory, has sought to force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty claims.

Taiwan’s government and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have repeatedly said China is trying to interfere in the vote, whether by military means or co-opting Taiwanese politicians, to ensure an outcome favourable to Beijing.

China’s Commerce Ministry said it had determined Taiwan had put up trade barriers in contravention of both World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and a trade deal signed in 2010 with Taiwan. These barriers have had a “negative impact” on Chinese companies, it added.

The ministry stopped short of announcing any countermeasures. It was also unclear whether the investigation is over.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a separate statement, said evidence from the probe is clear and that its conclusions objective and fair.

“We support the relevant authorities to study and take corresponding measures in accordance with regulations based on the final findings of the investigation on trade barriers to Taiwan,” it said.

Separately, Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Friday morning it had detected 10 Chinese military aircraft operating around the island, including J-16 fighters and H-6 bombers, carrying out “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships, part of what Taiwan calls routine harassment.

China in October said it was extending its trade barrier investigation to Jan. 12, the eve of Taiwan’s elections. Taiwan denounced that at the time as election interference.

Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations, responding to the Chinese announcement of the investigation’s conclusions, called them one sided, inconsistent with the facts and in violation of WTO mechanisms and norms.

“We will never accept it and call on China to stop their political operations immediately,” it said in a statement.

Both are WTO members and can resolve issues there, it added.

“If China is sincere, our attitude is that we can talk at any time,” said the office’s spokesperson, James Hsiao.

Taiwan’s Economy Ministry pointed to Chinese barriers to Taiwanese exports like banning “without warning many times” various aquatic and food products.

The government is working with Taiwanese companies to mitigate the “policy risks” associated with China, including diversifying exports markets, the ministry added.

The DPP’s Lai Ching-te is the frontrunner to be Taiwan’s next president, according to polls. China detests him believing him to be a separatist and has rebuffed repeated offers of talks.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday said Taiwan’s elections were “purely an internal Chinese matter” and that the DPP was trying to call any kind of interactions between the two sides of the strait election interference.

Taiwan’s government rejects China’s sovereignty claims, saying only the island’s people can decide their future.

  • Reuters