Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te and his running mate Hsiao Bi-Khim pose for a photo after registering for the upcoming presidential election at the Central Election Commission in Taipei, Taiwan, 21 November 2023. REUTERS

TAIPEI (Reuters) – The people of Taiwan will have to choose in next year’s elections whether the island will continue to advance on the path to democracy or “walk towards China’s embrace”, the favorite to be the next president said on Tuesday.

The issue of China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, is of great importance ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on January 13, especially as Beijing has been intensifying its military pressure on the island.

Lai Ching-te, vice president and presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led in most opinion polls before the elections. The DPP advocates Taiwan’s separate identity from China.

The largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favors close ties with Beijing, is embroiled in a dispute with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) over which of its candidates should run as president and which as vice president. after agreeing to work together.

Lai, speaking to reporters and supporters after formally registering his candidacy with the electoral commission, said Taiwan’s security was an international issue and the world was watching the elections.

“The people of Taiwan must choose between trusting Taiwan, allowing Taiwan to continue to move forward on the path of democracy, and trusting China, following the ancient path of the one-China principle, and embracing China,” he said.

Beijing has demanded that Taipei accept that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “one China”, which the DPP-led government has rejected, saying only the island’s people can decide its future.

Lai on Monday announced Taiwan’s former de facto ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, as his running mate.

Like Lai, Hsiao is vilified by China, which imposed sanctions on her twice, most recently in April, saying she was “obstinate for independence”.

On Monday night, Chinese state television criticized Lai-Hsiao’s team in a commentary, saying they were “conniving villains”.

“Taiwan independence means war. Lai-Hsiao’s double act of independence will intensify cross-strait tensions and conflicts,” the broadcaster said in the commentary posted on its website.

Lai dismissed China’s criticism, saying on Monday that it was further evidence of its efforts to interfere in the election.

Lai, standing next to Hsiao outside the electoral commission, said he was full of confidence.

“We both deeply love this land, we passionately love this country,” he added.

The deadline for voter registration is Friday. It is unclear when opposition parties will register their candidates.

KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih said he spoke with TPP presidential candidate and party chairman Ko Wen-je on Tuesday and expressed his “sincerity” in wanting to continue talking about how they should get along join.

“From beginning to end, I never insisted that I should be the leader,” Hou said, referring to being the presidential candidate and not vice president.

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Ko, a former Taipei mayor who founded the TPP in 2019, said on Sunday that he would “continue to fight to the end as the TPP presidential candidate.”



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