China Sanctions Political Pundits in Taiwan to Pressure Lai

(Bloomberg) -- China said it would sanction five Taiwanese political commentators and roll out a law to punish “separatists,” moves aimed at piling pressure on incoming president Lai Ching-te just days before he takes office.

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The pundits’ remarks “deceived some people on the island, incited hostility and confrontation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and hurt the feelings of compatriots on both sides,” Chen Binhua, spokesman for the government department in Beijing that handles affairs related to Taiwan, said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

The five are regulars on political talk shows on the island of 23 million people that Beijing has pledged to bring under its control someday, by force if necessary.

The moves by Beijing are an early signal that its relations with Lai, the current vice president who will be sworn in as the new leader on Monday, are likely to be as fraught as they have been under President Tsai Ing-wen for the past eight years.

China castigates the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as separatists who are pushing the two sides toward war. It has refused to hold high-level talks with Tsai because she won’t acknowledge its stance that Taiwan is part of China.

Instead, Beijing has ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure on her administration. The most high-profile example of that was when the People’s Liberation Army held unprecedented exercises around Taiwan in 2022 after Tsai met with then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Read More: Taiwan’s Lai Warns of ‘Severe’ Challenges for New Security Team

Chen also took aim at Lai, saying he had to choose between peace or “the evil path of provocation and confrontation.”

He didn’t give details on the new sanctions but said they’d be similar to ones leveled in 2021 against three top leaders. Back then, the premier, foreign minister, and speaker of the legislature and their relatives were barred from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

They were also prohibited from working with mainland-based organizations and individuals, and companies linked to them were barred from making profits there.

The sanctions are mostly symbolic since the commentators are unlikely to travel to China or do business there.

One of them, Lee Cheng-hao, started his show Wednesday with a long laugh over the sanctions, saying “My phone exploded with messages when I was on my way into the studio this morning. This is unbelievable!”

Lee is a former member of the Kuomintang who was kicked out of the main opposition party for remarks critical of a former presidential candidate. He once suggested removing the word “Chinese” from the KMT’s name.

Sanctions from China have become something of a status symbol within the DPP. “Congratulations!” party spokesman Wu Cheng said on social media to the five pundits.

Chen, the Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman, didn’t provide details on any new legislation to deal with individuals who he said “severely damage national sovereignty, security and development interests.” The laws would only target a small number of individuals, he added.

(Updates with details of Lee Cheng-hao’s response.)

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