November 26, 2019 / 9:05 AM / 20 days ago

Taiwan presidential challenger's wife skips Singapore after being told no campaigning

TAIPEI (Reuters) - The wife of Taiwan’s main opposition candidate in a presidential election has cancelled a campaigning trip to Singapore after the government said it did not permit “foreign political activities”.

Singapore, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory and simply a province with no right to foreign relations.

But Singapore does have close informal ties with Taiwan, including militarily, and was the site in 2015 for a landmark meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s then-president, Ma Ying-jeou.

Lee Chia-fen, the wife of Han Kuo-yu from Taiwan’s Kuomintang party, which favours close ties with China, had been due in Singapore this week to stump for support for her husband from Taiwanese electors in the island state. Media in Singapore estimate there are around 50,000 Taiwanese living there.

The Kuomintang said on Tuesday that her trip had been called off altogether, having already said on Monday that it had cancelled what would have been a rare high-profile overseas election event after Singapore’s government had expressed concern about security.

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, responding to what it called questions “regarding reports on the cancellation of a visit to Singapore by the spouse of a politician from Taiwan”, said foreign political activities were not allowed.

“The government does not permit the conduct of foreign political activities, including campaigning and fund raising, in Singapore. We have consistently maintained the same policy for all parties,” it said in a statement.

    “We expect all residents and visitors to respect and abide by our laws.”

However, other countries in the region which also have large Taiwanese business communities have welcomed Lee, including Cambodia, a close Chinese ally that does not even permit Taiwan to have a representative office there.

Lee has also been to Vietnam and Japan to drum up support, and is now in Malaysia. Her husband is far behind in opinion polls.

The Kuomintang, which used to rule China until it was forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists, says it wants to improve relations with Beijing.

Han this month called for a return to a consensus with Beijing that there is only one China, but rejected China’s formula for Hong Kong-style “one nation, two systems” unification.

China has also previously allowed the Kuomintang to conduct low-key campaigning amongst the large Taiwanese business community in China, hoping they will go home to vote and usher in a government more well disposed toward Beijing.

China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party, fearing it wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, crossing a red line for Beijing.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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