The Independence Party candidate wins the elections in Taiwan, portending more tension with China

(Louise Delmotte/Associated Press)

The Independence Party candidate wins the elections in Taiwan, portending more tension with China

Stephanie Yang

January 13, 2024

Taiwan’s ruling party

riveted riveted

a third presidential term in Saturday’s elections, in a historic victory that portends the continuation of a tense standoff between Beijing and the United States

self-governed island. new administration.

With 40.1% of the vote, current Vice President Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party defeated two candidates who favored closer ties with Beijing, indicating that for the majority of voters, antipathy to China was greater than the growing one

dissatisfaction with the economy and other domestic issues. economic and political dissatisfaction in our own country.

“They just proved that it is possible to break the eight-year curse.”


Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at Australia National University’s Taiwan Studies Program

said about the DPP’s victory

. “They can let Beijing know that they lack power.”

But despite the unprecedented victory in its third term, analysts said the DPP failed to gain ground among voters outside its traditional support base. Opposition parties together accounted for 59.8% of the vote, and growing fatigue among the ruling party could pose additional challenges for Lai, who must prove he can manage both international and domestic grievances. Lai is also likely to experience headwinds from a

divided legislative yuan, the parliament with 113 seats, party split in the legislature with 113 seats,

making it harder to advance his agenda.

“This is Lai’s victory, but it is also a failure of the opposition,” said Lev Nachman, a political science professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “This is going to be a very tough government. Now they face a very divided society and a very divided yuan in the legislature.


In his victory speech, Lai acknowledged that the DPP had lost its majority in the legislature, and said he would study his opponents’ policies and possibly integrate them into his own.

“The elections have told us that people expect effective government, as well as strong checks and balances. We fully understand and respect these views of the public,” he said.

Lai reiterated his intention to maintain the status quo with China and maintain peace in Taiwan.

“We will use exchanges to replace obstacles, dialogue to replace confrontation, and confidently pursue exchanges and cooperation with China,” he said.

Lai will take office at a very fertile time for the US, China and Taiwan. The self-ruled island’s sovereignty has become a flashpoint in the deteriorating relationship between the two superpowers, raising concerns about a potential military conflict that could quickly spread to the broader Asia-Pacific. That has made maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait, already a delicate balancing act, a more difficult task for the next government in Taipei.

China views Taiwan as part of its territory that must eventually be united with the mainland, if necessary by force. Relations between the two countries have become tense

or “been frozen”? // if it’s communication, it would be frozen, I think

during the eight years under outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen,


has taken a more confrontational stance toward Beijing while strengthening ties with other democracies, especially the US

The US has long pursued a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.” It recognizes that China lays claim to the island democracy of 23 million inhabitants, but does not endorse this. Nor does it recognize Taiwan as a country, but Washington maintains government contacts with and sells defensive weapons to Taipei. U.S. officials refuse to say explicitly whether they would provide military assistance in the event of a conflict, both to deter China from launching an attack and to deter Taiwan from formally declaring independence.

But in recent years, Beijing has accused the U.S. of backing away from the policy and quietly encouraging Taiwan to pursue independence. When then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August 2022,

it was last year, 2023! But we can totally take the year out // Haha no it was 2022! I had to double check this too OMG, my sense of time is completely off! Restoration “2022”

Chinese officials responded by launching unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan and suspending imports of certain fruits and fish. That military and economic pressure has continued with increased naval and air patrols and the end of preferential tariffs on trade with Taiwan last month.

Although Lai was the frontrunner for a long time, his lead in the polls narrowed significantly in the weeks before the elections. The DPP candidate campaigned on assurances that he would continue Tsai’s trajectory of strengthening Taiwan’s international ties and defense capabilities while maintaining the status quo.

Still, Chinese officials have criticized the 64-year-old former doctor as a dangerous choice for a president who could lead the island into war. Lai’s choice of words to describe himself in 2017 as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence” has fueled that characterization, giving Beijing and opposition parties ammunition to brand him as a separatist who would provoke China’s military wrath.

The Chinese Nationalist Party, better known as the Kuomintang or KMT, has also framed the elections as a choice between war and peace. His candidate, Hou Yu-ih, a 66-year-old former police chief and current mayor of New Taipei City, stressed his commitment to “law and order” and said he would try to improve relations with Beijing but does not support unification.

The KMT, which fled mainland China after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949, has largely fallen out of favor with younger generations, the majority of whom now consider themselves more Taiwanese than Chinese. The island’s oldest political party is struggling to attract young voters and shake its image as a pro-China choice.

But there are signs that voters are also dissatisfied with the ruling DPP and are eager to express their dissatisfaction, especially with stagnant economic growth.

In 2022, the KMT won a large number of victories in local elections in Taiwan, prompting Tsai to resign as chairman of the DPP. A November poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation found that 57.4% of respondents were dissatisfied with the DPP’s governance, including its approach to the two countries’ relations and the economy.

That frustration sparked an early wave of unexpected support for Ko Wen-je as a third-party alternative, especially among Taiwanese people disenchanted with the two main political parties. The 64-year-old former trauma surgeon served two terms as mayor of Taipei before running for president this year of the Taiwan People’s Party, which he founded. He attacked the DPP for being too hostile to Beijing, and the KMT for being too lenient. However, his momentum waned after a failed attempt to form a ticket against the DPP together with Hou.

As tensions have risen, the growing number of warships and aircraft around Taiwan has also raised the possibility of an accidental clash that could spiral out of control. Analysts expect Beijing to express its displeasure over Lai’s election by making greater displays of military and economic power.

Such a response will set the tone for the rocky relationship with the US, which has seen a slight thaw since President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met in November for their first meeting in a year. The two agreed to resume military dialogues held after Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Biden reiterated that US policy on the island had not changed, while Xi reportedly reassured Biden that he had no immediate plans to use military force.

“The momentum behind an improvement in US-China relations is ongoing,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at International Crisis Group. “That will push China to adopt somewhat more discreet or ambiguous forms of pressure. But there will certainly be pressure.”


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