Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen cautioned China against any efforts to interfere in local elections next month, in a toughly worded speech that mirrored US Vice President Mike Pence’s own rebuke to Beijing.
Tsai made the remarks during a National Day address in Taipei, in which she described China as a threat to the international order. The Taiwanese president used the speech to issue a warning about election meddling after her administration accused China, along with Russia and North Korea, of testing cyber-hacking techniques on the democratically run island for use elsewhere.
“We will relentlessly prosecute cases of creation and spread of untruthful information, technology leaks, sabotage of information-technology security systems, interference in elections and politics, if there is solid evidence,” Tsai said on Wednesday. “We will bolster cooperation with other countries to counter systematic disinformation campaign originating from certain countries.”
The speech comes as tensions between Beijing and both Taipei and its main security guarantors in Washington reach their highest in years. Tsai’s comments bore a similarity to a speech by Pence last week, in which he laid out allegations of Chinese election interference in the US and lauded Taiwan’s democracy as a model for Chinese people.
In his remarks, Pence specifically criticised China’s efforts to isolate the island of 23 million people by luring away diplomatic partners and forcing US companies to stop referring to it as a country. Beijing cut off formal communication with Taipei in 2016 after Taiwan elected Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party supports independence from China.
“We will not escalate conflicts impulsively and we will not cave in and submit,” Tsai said. “Our democratic transition lightens our dark past and provides a ray of light in the dark night for all those seeking democracy. Those in Hong Kong, China and elsewhere in the world seeking democracy can look in Taiwan’s direction.”
Tsai will face her first election test November 24, when the DPP will defend hundreds of seats in local elections. The vote gives the island’s more China-friendly opposition, the Kuomintang, the first chance to claw back influence after being swept from power over the past few years.
Taiwan is bracing for an onslaught of cyber attacks from mainland China ahead of the vote, Howard Jyan, director general of Taiwan’s cybersecurity department, recently told Bloomberg News. The government endured 360 successful cyber attacks last year after tens of millions of attempts, Jyan said, possibly compromising sensitive and classified data.
China has in turned lashed out at Taiwan’s intelligence agencies. On September 16, An Fengshan, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, demanded that the island government “cease infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland to avoid further harming increasingly complex and severe” relations.
Taiwan has been a central point of tension between Washington and Beijing since the Republic of China government fled to Taipei and the Communists founded their People’s Republic 69 years ago. China has tolerated Taiwan’s autonomy so long as both sides respect there is only “one China.”