A mainland tourist takes pictures of Taiwanese flags in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Photo: Facebook

Will Taiwanese vote out incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen under Beijing’s duress, when they head for polling stations in early January?

China certainly hopes so and it has a new plan that may include banning its nationals from visiting the island, which it regards as a renegade province.

Beijing is dangling bigger carrots than Taiwan can afford to poach its dwindling number of diplomatic allies to change sides.

Taiwanese papers including the Liberty Times cited sources as saying that the Solomon Islands and Kiribati severing ties with the island was merely the start of a new “avalanche of ruptures”, with Beijing intent on whittling down Taiwan’s official supporters to detract from Tsai’s achievements on the diplomatic front.

$500m for Solomon Islands

Beijing is ready to either drive a wedge in Taiwan’s relationship with its remaining allies or dole out more funding to these nations, with strings attached. The Solomon Islands allegedly switch diplomatic allegiance to Beijing after receiving a promise of US$500 million in aid.

Now Xi has targeted Taiwan’s other diplomatic partners to lure them away with “checkbook diplomacy,” in particular states in the South Pacific and the Caribbean such as Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua, sources familiar with the situation said.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen made a personal bid to persuade the Solomon Islands not to cut ties when meeting the South Pacific island nation’s foreign minister earlier this month. Photo: Handout

This is the main thrust of a new plan devised by Xi’s trusted policy wonks to further meddle in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and Legislative Yuan polls, when Beijing’s favored candidate, the Kuomintang party’s Han Kuo-yu, is increasingly facing tough competition from Tsai.

Beijing may also stop all mainlanders from visiting Taiwan by the end of the year. It stopped issuing individual visit permits at the end of July but to date Chinese tourists may still be able to tour the island in guided groups that follow pre-approved itineraries.

De-facto travel ban

The move will add further woes to the already ailing tourism and hospitality sectors in southern and eastern counties, which are a traditional base for Tsai and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, given tourism is a pillar supporting the local economy. But the bottom has fallen out of the market with beaches, restaurants and hostels quiet as tourists from the mainland have stopped coming since August.

When cross-strait ties were more amicable during Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency between 2008 and 2016, about four million mainlanders flocked to Taiwan each year. Yet less than a thousand tourists have arrived each day in the first 20 days of this month, according to the Executive Yuan (the top branch of government).

The clampdown on tourism may convince some catering and accommodation industry employees and stakeholders to vote for the KMT candidate with the hope that Beijing might retract its de-facto travel ban.

Yet amid these developments, at least the Taiwanese army can expect a respite, when Xi marshals his elite troops and assets of the People’s Liberation Army to Beijing for a military bash and extravagant celebrations on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the Communist republic.

As well as putting their latest weapons on display in a parade in Tiananmen Square, many of the PLA’s ace contingents will also be guarding Beijing while the nation goes all out with multiple events.

Taiwanese military observers say from now till at least October 7, the last day of China’s week-long National Day break, tensions in the Taiwan Strait may calm down as the PLA is likely to scale back or even stop its aerial and naval circumnavigations targeting the island.

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