China has branded Taiwan presidential front-runner William Lai a “destroyer of peace” following a televised debate on Saturday in which he defended the island’s right to rule itself as a democracy.
Chen Binhua, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said Mr Lai’s discourse at the debate was “full of confrontational thinking”.
He said Mr Lai, who currently serves as Taiwan’s vice president with the governing Democratic People’s Party, is “the instigator of a potential dangerous war in the Taiwan Strait”.
Taiwan split from China amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing continues to regard the island of 23 million people with its high-tech economy as Chinese territory and has been ramping up its threat to achieve that by military force if necessary.
Mr Lai said on Saturday that he is open to holding talks with Beijing “as long as there is equality and dignity on both sides of the Taiwan Strait”.
He said Taiwan is not subordinate to China. While Mr Lai does not describe himself as seeking independence from Beijing, he generally maintains that Taiwan is already an independent country.
Mr Lai is running in the January 13 presidential election against candidates Hou Yu-ih from the more China-friendly Kuomintang Party, and Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party.