Taiwan's Vice President Accuses China Of Using Trade Curbs To Influence Elections

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwan's vice president and frontrunner in the presidential elections has accused China of using "unfair" trade practices to influence the elections.

William Lai, in a meeting Friday with foreign press in Taipei, said China has targeted Taiwan's "agricultural products potentially in an effort to undermine the coming elections."

His comments come after China on Monday announced it would suspend mango imports from Taiwan after import authorities detected "pests" on the fruit. The trade curb is largely believed to be politically motivated.

Taiwan is due to hold presidential elections in January 2024.

Over the weekend, Beijing launched war games around Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China claims as its own. China and Taiwan split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with the ruling Communist Party taking control over the mainland.

Beijing has never renounced the use of force as a means of retaking Taiwan. China's political leadership sees Lai and Taiwan's incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen, as "separatists" and refuses to speak to them.

The military drills had followed stopovers by Lai in New York and San Francisco as part of a state visit to Paraguay earlier this month. Lai had decried the exercises as another attempt by Beijing to intimidate voters and influence the January elections.

The U.S. Department of State on Saturday called on China "to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan."

While the U.S. does not maintain official ties with Taiwan, it is its biggest source of weapons and has pledged to help the island defend itself in case of an invasion.

"China will be hoping to interfere in the elections with all sorts of tactics, but if they succeed, it will be an undermining of Taiwan's democracy," Lai said at the Friday event.

As the Democratic Progressive Party's candidate, Lai leads in most opinion polls over his competitors, Ko Wen-je from the independence-leaning Taiwan People's Party, and Hou Yu-ih, from the more China-friendly Kuomintang party.