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Taiwan opposition seeks distance from China after defeat of opinion

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s main opposition party moved to distance itself from China after one of its highest officials lost a highly charged recall election as attitudes hardened against Beijing on the democratic island, China claims.

FILE PHOTO: Kuomintang Party presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu admits defeat in Kaohsiung, Taiwan presidential election January 11, 2020. REUTERS / Ann Wang

Kuomintang or KMT were already losing presidential and parliamentary elections in January, as they had not dismissed accusations by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that they would sell Taiwan to China.

On Saturday, KMT’s defeated presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, lost by a wide margin a recall vote for his position as mayor of the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Opponents portray Han and KMT as making China’s bid by supporting Beijing’s model “one country, two systems” to get Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty. KMT says it has never supported this.

Following the recall, KMT reiterated its opposition to Beijing as well as a “Taiwan first” stance.

“President Johnny Chiang of KMT certainly says that the party – against communism and aims to build a democratic, free, prosperous and united country – and its members has always put Taiwan first for the people,” KMT said in a statement late on Saturday.

He – who last year visited China and met his top Taiwanese decision maker and met in Hong Kong with his leader Carrie Lam before the Chinese-governed city was enveloped in anti-China protests – has said he was simply trying to drum up investment to Taiwan and reduce the risk of conflict.

The vote took place amid further tensions in Hong Kong over Beijing’s efforts last month to introduce national security legislation for the city, a measure that strongly opposes all of Taiwan’s main parties in a rare display of unity.

Emotions in Taiwan towards China are further delayed not only because of the Hong Kong protests, but also the Chinese pressure to keep Taiwan out of the World Health Organization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KMT, under youthful new leader Chiang, is reviewing its policies, especially its unpopular stance on seeking closer ties with Beijing, which has never relinquished the use of power to bring Taiwan under its control.

Adding to the KMT hurt, the Kaohsiung City Council speaker, a KMT member and strong supporter of Han’s, jumped to his death late on Saturday after the mayor lost the vote, police say.

Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law congratulated Kaohsiung’s people for the recall vote, saying Hong Kong’s people would be envious as they could not do the same with their own leader.

“Once we have liberated Hong Kong, I hope Hong Kong will be like Taiwan is now, the envy of others.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Reese and William Mallard

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