I spent two weeks in Taiwan recently. During the trip, many Taiwanese asked me about the ongoing Hong Kong social unrest that was triggered by a controversial extradition bill.
Almost everyone I met expressed sympathy for the protestors and student activists in Hong Kong. Such sympathy probably stems from the fact that both Taiwan and Hong Kong are grappling with constant pressure from Beijing.
Taiwan will hold its presidential election early next year. In May, incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party was lagging behind the Beijing-friendly candidate, Kuomintang’s Han Kuo-yu, in various polls.
The situation took a sharp turn after the extradition bill protests broke out in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s mass rallies are believed to have brought out the China phobia of Taiwanese people and deepened their distrust in the “one country two systems”.
Riding on such drastic shift in public sentiment, Tsai moved into the lead and was beating Han by over 12 percentage points in public backing at one point.
Nevertheless, fresh opinion polls show Han’s support rate has begun improving, and the gap with Tsai has narrowed to 7 to 10 percentage points.
Han has criticized the Tsai administration, accusing it of lacking a constructive approach in relation to cross-strait issues and causing economic woes for Taiwan.
According to my observation, grassroots voters are not very supportive of Tsai, with the disenchantment particularly noticeable among workers such as drivers, vendors and hotel staff.
The workers complained that a drop in Chinese tourists has taken toll on their livelihood. Many other people, meanwhile, griped about their income growth, pointing out that it has lagged far behind housing costs and inflation.
The way I see it, though the China threat might be real, livelihood can be even more pressing issue for Taiwan people. That’s why Han may still have a chance to win.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 16
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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