Taiwan Presidential Election: Voters Face Question of How to Deal with China

Will Taiwan continue to resist unification pressure from the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping or shift to a conciliatory approach toward China? The upcoming election will have an impact not only on China-Taiwan relations but also on the situation in East Asia.

The period to file to run for Taiwan’s presidency has ended, so the candidate lineup is set for the election to be held in January next year.

Those who filed to run are Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the ruling party of President Tsai Ing-wen; New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih of the largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT); and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the third most prominent Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

The KMT and the TPP initially agreed to field a joint candidate, but were unable to coordinate properly and ended up abandoning that plan. Lai has led in opinion polls. The failure to form a joint front is likely to deal a major blow to the opposition camp.

A major issue in the election is Taiwan’s policy toward China. As the Tsai administration has not accepted the so-called 1992 Consensus, where both China and Taiwan are said to have affirmed the “one China” principle, dialogue has stalled with Beijing, which objects to Tsai’s position.

The administration has responded to China’s military provocations, such as repeated exercises around Taiwan, by strengthening security cooperation with the United States.

The DPP’s Lai has made clear that he will maintain this policy line and take a confrontational stance against China. He is said to have a strong desire for Taiwan independence, but given that many voters want to maintain the status quo, he intends to keep the independence aspect out of his election campaign to broaden his support.

On the other hand, the KMT’s Hou has made public his intention to accept the 1992 Consensus. Hou has claimed that if he takes office, he can ease tensions by resuming dialogue with China.

The TPP’s Ko has yet to make clear whether he will accept the consensus. He has said that the DPP has been too tough on China, while the KMT has been too conciliatory. Ko apparently is attempting to win over swing voters who have grown tired of the established parties.

How voters think Taiwan should deal with China is likely to be a decisive factor in the outcome of the election. Stability around the Taiwan Strait is also important for Japan’s security. It is hoped that the candidates will debate the matter in a constructive manner.

China, on the other hand, has framed the Taiwan presidential election as a choice between peace and war, as well as between prosperity and decline. This is a blatant propaganda campaign to encourage voters to turn away from the DPP.

The Xi administration has called for “peaceful unification under a one country, two systems” arrangement, but there is no room for Taiwan to accept this policy after Beijing made it a dead letter in Hong Kong. Even if the opposition camp comes to power, peaceful unification would be impossible.

Democracy has spread deep roots in Taiwan. It is unacceptable for China to ignore the will of Taiwan’s people and unilaterally set a course for unification.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2023)