Taiwan says China seeks to influence island's elections by wooing away its allies

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The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan: China is stepping up efforts to woo away Taiwan's diplomatic allies in an attempt to hurt President Chen Shui-bian's ruling party ahead of crucial elections, the island's top diplomat said Tuesday.

The accusation by Foreign Minister James Huang came just four days ahead of elections to choose a new Legislature for this island of 23 million people. That poll will be followed by elections in March to select Chen's successor.

Last week, Huang had to abort a planned visit to the African nation of Malawi to shore up diplomatic support because the country refused to receive him. That visit was planned after two senior Malawian ministers visited Beijing in what Taiwan feared was a prelude to the establishment of formal ties between Malawi and China.

Taiwanese officials also fear the Marshall Islands could switch recognition to Beijing after a pro-China president was elected there earlier this week.

However, Huang told reporters that Taiwanese diplomats are prepared to deal with "an election crisis" resulting from China's using generous aid packages to woo the island's 24 allies.

"China is now doing all it can to disrupt Taiwan-Malawi ties in order to crush our morale," he said.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing deeply distrusts Chen and believes his party is seeking to formalize the island's de facto independence, an act it has threatened to meet with war.

During Taiwan's first popular presidential election in 1996, China staged war games near the island's waters in an attempt to warn Taiwanese voters against electing a pro-independence leader.

But Beijing has since toned down its sabre-rattling ahead of crucial Taiwanese elections, fearing provocative actions could alienate voters.

Leaders of the DPP, however, have played up China's political and military threats, hoping it would make the party's pro-independence stance more appealing to voters.

Chen has repeatedly warned voters the island could be forced into unification with China if the DPP loses the elections to the main opposition Nationalist Party.

The DPP accuses the Nationalists of adopting an over-friendly attitude toward Beijing.

In a related development, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said it will closely monitor Chinese military deployments ahead of the March 22 presidential poll.

No irregular Chinese military moves have been detected so far, said Defense Ministry spokesman Yu Sy-tue.