The most senior American diplomat in Taiwan has expressed concern about attempts by mainland China to influence the self-ruled island’s upcoming presidential election. Brent Christensen, the de facto US ambassador, said Washington was working with Taipei to combat disinformation, which is seen as one of Beijing’s ways of targeting the January 11 poll. “We are aware that China is attempting to apply pressure through various means on Taiwan,” the head of the American Institute in Taipei said on Friday. “Certainly, these attempts to influence Taiwan’s democratic process are of concern.” He continued: “We believe malign actors are using disinformation campaigns to make people lose faith in democratic institutions.” Beijing, which views Taiwan as a wayward province that must return to the mainland’s fold – by force if necessary – has stepped up pressure to try to intimidate Taiwan militarily and isolate the island internationally in a bid to discourage voters from re-electing the incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. Cross-strait relations, which had been improving under Tsai’s predecessor Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, soured after Tsai was elected to the island’s top post in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle. In addition to staging a series of military exercises and poaching seven allies from Taipei since Tsai took office in 2016, Beijing has also taken a variety of steps aimed at persuading voters to kick her out of office. The island’s government has criticised the recent announcement of 26 preferential measures for Taiwanese businesspeople and students on the mainland as an attempt to win support for closer ties, while security officials have also warned that “certain actions” were being taken to influence the election. Christensen identified disinformation as one Beijing’s ways of trying to influence the election. “The US and Taiwan are working very closely to combat these disinformation efforts,” he said. Taiwan seeks US help to set up‘Viper’ fighter jet maintenance centre He said the US was legally bound to help safeguard Taiwan, and that “any efforts to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including boycotts, embargoes, the threat to peace and the security of western Pacific are of grave concern to the US”. Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, but has maintained substantive ties with the island since then. The Taiwan Relations Act, enacted soon after the switch, mandates it to help defend Taiwan in the face of military threats from the mainland. Citing US President Donald Trump’s approval of US$10 billion worth of arms sales for Taiwan, Christensen said this represented the “strong relationship in security matters that we anticipate will only grow stronger”. Later on Friday Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Beijing had previously succeeded in influencing Taiwan’s elections, citing as evidence the KMT’s success in the local government polls last November. Beijing ‘interferes daily’ in Taiwan’s election, says Tsai Ing-wen Wu said Beijing’s efforts had included military and diplomatic intimidation tactics, the spread of disinformation and recruiting pro-unification activists to promote the one-China principle. “We have learned our lesson,” he said, adding that this time the government was doing all it could to curtail Beijing’s efforts to influence the poll.