Taiwanese presidential candidate says he wouldn’t meet Chinese President Xi without an agenda

By Kaori Kaneko and Sakura Murakami

TOKYO (Reuters) – The leader of a small Taiwanese political party rising in the polls in his bid for the presidency said on Wednesday he would not meet Chinese President Xi Jinping just for the sake of it and that he would must be a clear aim of such talks.

Former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je founded the Taiwan People’s Party in 2019 and officially announced last month that he would run for president in January.

Although his party has only a handful of lawmakers, Ko has risen in the polls in recent weeks, with some showing him ahead of Hou Yu-ih of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), but behind the vice -President William Lai, the ruling party. Candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party.

Ko sought to engage with China while mayor, although last year he criticized China’s military pressure during a virtual meeting with Shanghai officials.

Speaking to Reuters on a trip to Tokyo, Ko, a surgeon, said there was “no problem” with cultural exchanges with China and there could be economic cooperation.

“Politically, at the present stage, there are different political systems and ways of life – here there is no way,” he said.

The KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou is the only Taiwanese president to have met with a Chinese president: Xi in Singapore in late 2015. China has rejected several talks offers from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, calling her a separatist.

When asked if he would be willing to meet Xi, Ko replied, “what would be the goal, what would be the benefit for Taiwan?”

“So let’s not meet for the sake of meeting,” he added. “A lot of that is performance. For me, it has to be pragmatic: what would the discussions be about, what would be the goal?”

China, which considers Taiwan democratically governed as its own territory despite strong objections from the Taipei government, has stepped up military and political pressure to force the island to accept Beijing’s sovereignty.

Ko, who met with US officials in Washington DC in April, said Taiwan must be able to defend itself.

“On Ukraine and Russia, no country sent troops to Ukraine, at most they only sold weapons. So we have to rely on ourselves,” he added.

The United States pushed Taiwan to make its armed forces more deadly and agile, turning the island into a hard-to-attack “porcupine”, a modernization strategy Tsai enthusiastically supported.

Ko said they would “buy the guns they need” from the United States, but not “everything the Americans tell us to buy”.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Sakura Murakami; Writing by Jeanny Kao, Ben Blanchard and Gerry Doyle)

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