The flags of China and Taiwan are seen in this illustration, August 6, 2022. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

TAIPEI – Taiwan's military repelled four attempts by Chinese forces to approach the island's sensitive contiguous zone last month, Taiwanese security officials said, in what they see as an intensified Chinese campaign to “intimidate” voters ahead of key elections.

Taiwanese 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 for the past four years of regular Chinese military incursions as Beijing ramps up pressure to try to force the democratically-ruled island to accept its sovereignty.

China stepped up these missions ahead of Taiwan's elections as the campaign moved into high gear, Taiwanese security officials and Taipei-based diplomats say.

China's air and naval forces carried out four coordinated maneuvers approaching Taiwan's contiguous zone, which is 24 nautical miles (44 km) off its coast, in November, according to several Taiwanese security officials who discussed the matter. with reporters and an internal Taiwanese memo summarizing the Chinese activities.

Chinese military actions were part of a “multifaceted election interference campaign,” the memo wrote, saying it also included exchange activities with Taiwanese politicians and the spread of disinformation to influence public opinion.

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

China's Defense Ministry and Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment. Commenting on the previous election, the Taiwan Affairs Office said it respects Taiwan's “social systems.”

Chinese activities in November also included balloons that crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait for two consecutive days, as well as marine research ships that approached close to its contiguous zone on Taiwan's east and west coasts, officials said.

In November, a Chinese commercial tug entered Taiwan's southern territorial waters, 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 at any time, keeping tensions high,” the official said. “Psychological warfare is evident. They are spreading the message of 'peace and war' every day.”

A second Taiwanese official described the Chinese maneuvers as part of Beijing's growing campaign of “gray zone” warfare, which seeks to wear down Taiwan with repeated exercises and “intimidate” voters.

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

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

In an increase in 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 observe a Chinese naval formation, led by the aircraft carrier Shandong, sailing through the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan's government is on high alert for what it sees as China's attempts to interfere in elections by illicitly funding Beijing-friendly candidates using communications apps, group tours or disinformation campaigns, homeland security reports reviewed by Reuters show.

Unable to save your signature. Please try again.

Your subscription was successful.

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