Candidates Must Show Specific Measures for Stable Relationship with China

How will Taiwan deal with the administration of China’s Xi Jinping, which is pressing for China-Taiwan unification? The Taiwan presidential election scheduled for next January will have a major impact on the situation in East Asia. The campaign battle must be closely watched.

The presidential election is expected to be a three-way race, with candidates fielded by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); the largest opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), which advocates reconciliation with China; and the centrist Taiwan People’s Party.

Amid the growing confrontation with China under the Tsai administration and heightened military tensions, the biggest issue of the election will be Taiwan’s policy toward China.

The DPP candidate, Taiwan Vice President William Lai, has described the presidential election as a “choice between democracy and autocracy,” and has made clear that he will work with the United States, as the current administration has, to counter Chinese pressure.

Lai is said to have originally held a strong desire for Taiwan independence, but in light of growing concerns over friction with China both at home and abroad, he has switched his stance to maintaining the status quo, seeking neither independence nor unification. This stance means Lai would carry on the approach of the current administration.

Against this, New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih, the Kuomintang candidate, has said the DPP is leading Taiwan toward the danger of war, and has called for promoting exchanges with China to ease tensions.

In Taiwan, the majority of residents want to maintain the current relations with China. With this public opinion in mind, Hou has emphasized that the United States is Taiwan’s most important ally. But there are also strong voices within Kuomintang calling for a more conciliatory stance toward China.

Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je, a former Taipei mayor, has said Taiwan should work as a bridge between the United States and China and should not become a chess piece in the U.S.-China confrontation. He is said to be gaining support among independent voters who dislike the confrontation between the two major political parties.

Each candidate will be tested as to whether they can present concrete measures to build a stable China-Taiwan relationship.

One concerning factor is that China is stepping up its efforts to shake up Taiwan to provide indirect support for Hou.

While continuing to take a hard-line stance toward the Tsai administration, China last month lifted — at the request of Kuomintang — an embargo that had been imposed on Taiwanese fruit on the grounds that pests had been detected. This may be aimed at impressing upon Taiwan voters that Taiwan’s relations with China will stabilize if Kuomintang regains power.

It has also been argued that China is manipulating public opinion in an attempt to instill distrust of the United States and the DPP in Taiwan residents.

Last autumn, when a Taiwanese semiconductor-related manufacturer revealed a plan to expand its U.S. plant construction, false rumors spread on social media that Taiwan’s DPP administration had sold the company to the United States.

Taiwan society must be increasingly alarmed of China’s interference in the presidential election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 18, 2023)