Washington’s top diplomat calls for free and fair election in Taiwan

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), speaks at a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabian Hamacher/File Photo

Taiwan‘s 2024 election must be free from “outside interference”, Washington’s top diplomat in Taipei said on Monday, adding that U.S. policy towards the island will remain the same whomever wins.

President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials have warned that China might try to sway voters towards candidates seeking closer ties with Beijing in the Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary vote, which could define Taiwan‘s relations with its neighbour.

The United States is Taiwan‘s most important international supporter and arms supplier, despite the lack of formal ties with the Chinese-claimed island.

Sandra Oudkirk, director of the American Institute in Taiwan and de facto U.S. ambassador, said in a speech at National Taiwan University that the United States has deep confidence in Taiwan‘s electoral processes and democratic system.

“We believe it is for the Taiwan voters to decide their next leader, free from outside interference,” she said.

“And as I have said many times before, the United States is not taking sides in Taiwan‘s election, we do not have a preferred candidate and we know very well that we do not have a vote,” Oudkirk added. “We support Taiwan‘s vibrant democracy and look forward to working with whichever leaders Taiwan voters elect in 2024.”

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s Lai Ching-te, currently vice president, is the frontrunner to become Taiwan‘s next leader, according to opinion polls. China detests Lai, believing him to be a separatist, and has rebuffed several of his offers for talks.

Lai’s main opponent is Hou Yu-ih from Taiwan‘s largest opposition party the Kuomintang, which traditionally favours close ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing and says it will also maintain the close U.S. relationship.

China has over the past four years stepped up its military pressure against Taiwan, including staging two rounds of major war games near the island in the past year and a half.

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