Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen says China attack unlikely for now

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China is not likely to consider a major attack on Taiwan for now due to domestic challenges, the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday, although Beijing is trying to sway its upcoming election.

“I think the Chinese leadership at this juncture is overwhelmed by its internal challenges,” Tsai told the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York.

“My thought is that perhaps this is not a time for them to consider a major invasion of Taiwan,” she added in a recorded interview.

Tsai was responding to questions about the risks of an attack, in the aftermath of a closely watched meeting between the US and Chinese presidents, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, in California this month.

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The leaders’ talks, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, were aimed at preventing growing tensions from spiraling into conflict.

But Xi and Biden remain far apart on the flashpoint of Taiwan, with the Chinese leader telling his US counterpart that reunification was “unstoppable”.

Beijing regards the island as a breakaway province to be brought under mainland control – by force, if necessary. Many countries, including the US, do not officially recognize Taiwan as an independent state but oppose the use of force to change the status quo.

For the moment however, Beijing is grappling with domestic economic, financial and political challenges, Tsai said. The international community has also made it clear that war is no option, she added.

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But China is still “interested in interfering” in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election, Tsai said, adding that Beijing is attempting to sway the outcome in its favor.

“All major elections in Taiwan since 1996 have seen similar influence operations from China,” she said, noting these include the use of military threats and economic coercion.

Instead of hoping Beijing would give up on its tactics, Taiwan should “focus on strengthening the resilience of our democracy”, she added.

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Self-ruled Taiwan is holding its presidential election in January, and this is under scrutiny including by policymakers in Beijing and Washington, as it could determine Taipei’s ties with an increasingly bellicose Beijing.

Asked if the United States’ attempt to boost its chip manufacturing capabilities could make Washington’s ties with Taipei less valuable in the long run, Tsai added that the island’s current semiconductor industry cannot be replaced by anywhere else.

Tsai is not able to run in the coming election, as she will have completed the maximum of two terms in office.

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