This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
While visiting the United States, Hou Yu-ih, the opposition Kuomintang candidate in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential race, has called for a de-escalation of military tensions with China through dialogue alongside ongoing preparations for the possible threat of an invasion.
Hou, who is mayor of New Taipei City, told journalists in Washington D.C. that his main goal in seeking the presidency is to bring peace to Taiwan under his “Three Ds” policy of deterrence, dialogue and de-escalation after several years of military threats and deteriorating relations with Beijing.
“The deterrence part means that we must continue to improve our country’s ability to defend itself, strengthen national defenses and deter [China] from using force,” Hou said.
“The dialogue part means that we hope to restart dialogue and start to rebuild mutual trust, in addition to ongoing exchanges and visits across the Taiwan Strait,” he said, adding that talks could start with unofficial representatives drawn from among cross-straits relations experts.
Hou is the first opposition party candidate to set out a platform for managing ties with China since incumbent Democratic Progressive Party President Tsai Ing-wen swept to a landslide victory in 2020 on a platform of defending the island’s freedoms and democratic way of life.
Hou’s eight-day trip to the United States this week, which includes stops in New York and San Francisco, also appears aimed at sending a clear signal to Washington that his plan could also continue to rely on strong bilateral ties and ongoing arms sales to shore up Taiwan’s military defenses.
It comes after similar visits by Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je and incumbent Vice President Lai Ching-te earlier in the year, trips that are widely seen as a mark of candidates’ ability to handle international relations.
Blueprint for ‘peaceful unification’
Hou’s trip comes as China this week unveiled a “blueprint” for “peaceful unification” including economic incentives and sweeteners for residents of Taiwan, which has never been ruled by Beijing, to move to China’s Fujian province to live and work.
Last month, current front-runner Lai transited the United States, framing Taiwan’s attempts to resist the military threat from China as part of a global struggle to defend democracy.
By contrast, Hou is looking for ways to reduce conflict with China, which many have warned will make it easier for the Chinese Communist Party to target the island’s 23 million residents with propaganda and influence voters.
“The best way to reduce conflict is to continue to communicate and enhance mutual understanding,” Hou told journalists in Washington, calling for enhanced trade and economic ties with China.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said on Monday it had detected 103 Chinese military aircraft flying near the island in what China’s Global Times newspaper said was a major military exercise.
Hou said he opposed such “harassment” and called on Beijing to stop the sorties.
“This will only increase resentment among the Taiwanese people and is unhelpful for cross-straits relations,” he said.
Former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Richard C. Bush said he had also held discussions with Hou and other experts in cross-straits relations behind closed doors at the Brookings Institution on Monday.
“It was substantive, very engaging, and both sides learned a lot,” Bush said, confirming that possible military conscription and further arms sales were on the agenda, adding: “It’s all of that.”
“We understand that Taiwan faces great challenges, both domestically and externally, but Taiwan’s leaders understand that as well,” he said. “This kind of discussion allows us to go over those issues.”
German Marshall Fund expert Bonnie Glaser, who attended the session, said it was “an excellent conversation.”
“This was my first time meeting Mayor Hou,” Glaser said, adding that all the experts in the room now had a better understanding of his views.
“We all had the opportunity to ask questions … and Mayor Hou answered those questions very directly, so I personally came away with a much better understanding of what Mayor Hou’s vision is for Taiwan, the policies that he would pursue if he is elected,” she said.
“He was very well prepared. He spoke very comprehensively about issues,” Glaser said. “He really conveyed a full understanding of the challenges … and of the work that has to be done not only by Taiwan but also the United States and Taiwan together.”
“My impression is that he has thought through some of these issues and challenges that he would face,” she said.
Hou’s visit also took in the American Institute in Taiwan and Congress, as well as a dinner party hosted by overseas Chinese from Taiwan.
“I am here in the United States to brief you all on how I, as a future leader, will guide Taiwan out of [the current] crisis,” Hou told guests in Washington, prescribing more exchanges between Taiwan and China alongside robust military defenses.
“For years, the U.S. has been Taiwan’s sincerest ally and friend,” Hou told a dinner party hosted by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. “I look forward to deepening our bilateral friendship in the years to come.”
Laura Rosenberger, who heads the American Institute in Taiwan, which acts as a U.S. embassy in the absence of official bilateral diplomatic ties, said Taiwan is a “crucial partner” for the United States in its efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.
“The United States has long been committed to enabling Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” Rosenberger said in comments quoted by Taiwan’s Central News Agency. “Let me assure you that our commitment to that remains rock solid.”
Hou told the Central News Agency that his platform draws on “successful experiences” with dialogue during previous Kuomintang administrations.
“I will continue cross-strait communication while avoiding military miscalculations,” he said.