Language : English 简体 繁體

Where Will Taiwan Elections Lead?

Dec 14, 2022
  • Li Huan

    Deputy Director at CICIR's Institute of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and Distinguished Research Fellow, Xiamen University

Taiwan’s local elections ended on Nov. 26, and the American Institute in Taiwan’s Taipei office held a news conference. The timing was evidently selected so that the U.S. could express its official attitude about the outcome in a timely manner, leading public opinion in Taiwan without making a fuss and avoiding in-depth discussions, which the U.S. dislikes.

Early results showed the KMT winning 13 of 21 counties and cities — another “blue wave” on the island after the “Han Kuo-yu whirlwind” of 2018. The DPP receded across the board to south of Beigang River, receiving only five seats. The Taiwan People’s Party got one, and the other two went to candidates with no party affiliation.

The rout of the DPP was a direct reflection of public dissatisfaction and revealed that its divisive strategy of “confronting China and safeguarding Taiwan” had not only backfired but invited public disgust — so much so that those who once supported the DPP either avoided voting or shifted support to other candidates to punish the DPP.

Although the outcome may not exactly signal a sea change for the KMT (each locality’s specific conditions requiRE corresponding analysis), the KMT’s victories in four of six central municipalities — especially the benchmark Taipei — will no doubt boost intraparty morale and open a window for easing cross-Strait tensions. An early opening of city-to-city exchanges between the two sides may now be possible.

But it would be too optimistic to conclude that cross-Strait relations will now be free of frustration. After all, nothing has changed regarding two negative factors affecting relations with the Chinese mainland. One is that the DPP is still the ruling party, and its reflections on its defeats may not result in any profound rethinking of its policy on cross-Strait affairs. It may not moves to improve things on its own initiative. The other is that the U.S. is still intervening forcefully, taking a stand early and praising Taiwan as a “vibrant democracy.” It emphasized that there would be no change to U.S. Taiwan policy and pledged to cooperate with all who have been elected.

Against the backdrop of an unchanged basic framework, the mainland has demonstrated more calm in its observations about the elections and is prepared to encounter obstacles to promoting cross-Strait exchanges.

Local elections in Taiwan are focused primarily on specific issues of local governance, and the public is more concerned about personal traits and main policy proposals. Cross-Strait topics are seen as higher-level political subjects that assume little significance locally. Overly hyping up cross-Strait subjects may even inspire public distaste. In the later stages of the latest elections, the DPP’s call for people to “step forward for Taiwan” and “confront China and safeguard Taiwan” failed to gain traction. On the contrary, many people expressed dislike for the DPP’s ideological manipulation, which was aimed at dividing Taiwan.

Moreover, the “checks and balances” mindset of voters and a pendulum effect are inevitable in all elections at regular intervals. Outcomes of the latest local elections may not reveal a trend for the 2024 election of the island’s leadership, which was evident from elections in 2018 and 2020. All parties are well aware of such democratic mechanisms, so the KMT can’t afford to relax. The DPP, meanwhile, vowed to remain humble in the face of public opinion.

The AIT held a timely news conference. In addition to its four major goals in Taiwan — supporting the island's self-defense capabilities, increasing global supply chain resilience, supporting efforts to preserve and expand Taiwan’s international space and deepening relations between economies and peoples of the U.S. and Taiwan — it identified a fifth goal. It wants to jointly confront threats to information security, the purpose of which is certainly to enhance America’s influence on Taiwan’s political orientation via “cooperation.”

To the U.S., keeping the two sides of the Strait in a state of “no reunification, no use of force” is in its best interest. This is why there were remarks that avoiding war is the common responsibility of all policymakers, politicians and diplomats. The U.S. has always claimed it wishes the two sides of the Strait would resolve their disputes peacefully, yet it has turned a blind eye to the Chinese government’s sincere plan for a peaceful solution. On the contrary, it has worked closely with separatist who count on U.S. support as they seek independence and has constantly created obstacles to cross-Strait peace negotiations.

During the Bali meeting of Chinese and U.S. leaders, President Xi Jinping stressed that Taiwan represents the core of core Chinese interests, as well as the foundation of China-U.S. political relations, precisely because the Chinese leadership is fully aware of U.S. calculations. It is constantly making trouble for the two sides of the Strait by preventing them from discussing their domestic affairs. 

Beijing is now able to see the results of various elections on the island, as well as the local political parties and factions, more rationally. The KMT’s attitude toward the 1992 Consensus indicates that it’s no longer the KMT of the past. Can the Taiwan People’s Party gain a firm foothold and become a fresh actor in cross-Strait exchanges? The DPP’s ploys to seek independence and confront the mainland, as well as its attempts to create chasms and conflicts, will eventually invite more of the public’s “punishment with votes.”

The mainland’s poise in the face of elections in Taiwan derives from its own confidence. For the mainland, the door for exchanges and collaboration has always been open. Its respect, concern and desire to benefit compatriots in Taiwan have been sincere, and efforts for peaceful and integrated development have been consistent. And the mainland has been willing to communicate with all parties — people from all walks of life on the island — about peaceful development and peaceful reunification.

Aspirations for peace, stability and good lives are not just for the people of Taiwan but are what most people in all of China and rest of the world want. Taiwan needs more political leaders with a greater sense of responsibility for the nation, a sense of historic mission  and courage for change. Those who can proceed with the long-term interests of the general public in mind will never fail. If regular elections can instill such consciousness into the political parties of Taiwan, then how can the U.S. interfere with cross-Strait discourse about the process of peaceful reunification?

You might also like
Back to Top