Taiwan presidential hopeful Hou promises to boost island’s defense and restart talks with China


TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — One of Taiwan’s leading opposition party candidates in Saturday’s presidential election has promised to boost the island’s defense capabilities while restarting dialogue with Beijing, which claims the island as its own.

Hou Yu-ih, the presidential candidate from the opposition Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, on Thursday said he wants to “strengthen” Taiwan’s ability to protect itself to deter a potential attack from China.

“We have to let them know they have to bear the cost of the war,” Hou said during a news conference in New Taipei City, a municipality bordering the capital, Taipei. Hou, 66, is mayor of New Taipei, a position from which he took leave to run for president.

Besides bolstering defense, Hou pledged to restart dialogue with Beijing — first through cultural and civil society exchanges — as part of his “3d” strategy, which stands for deterrence, dialogue and de-escalation.

Most pre-election polls place Hou second after the governing Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, William Lai, who currently serves as vice president under Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai is barred by law from running a third term.

A third candidate, Ko Wen-je, from the smaller Taiwan People’s Party, is also running in the election.

Beijing is believed to favor Hou in the election, as an alternative to Lai, whom it has criticized as a “separatist” who is trying to provoke a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Taiwan split from China amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing continues to regard the island of 23 million with its high-tech economy as Chinese territory and has been steadily increasing its threat to achieve that goal by military force if necessary.

China has also stepped up military pressure on the island by sending military jets and ships near it almost daily. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry this month also reported Chinese balloons, which could be used for spying, flying in its vicinity.

Differences over Taiwan are a major flashpoint in U.S.-China relations. U.S. relations with the island are governed by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.

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