Choosing Lai Ching-te, Taiwan electors reject Beijing

January 16, 2024 22:39

On Saturday, the voters of Taiwan rejected the warnings of Beijing and chose as president Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This is the first time since universal suffrage started in 1996 that a party has won a third successive term.

Lai received 40.1 per cent of the votes, against 33.5 per cent for Hou Yu-ih of Kuomintang and 26.5 per cent for Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). In multiple declarations, Beijing made it clear its hatred for Lai, calling him a “dangerous separatist”, and its preference for Hou.

But the news was not all good for the DPP. Lai received 5.59 million votes, over two million less than the 8.17 million won by Tsai Ing-wen, his DPP predecessor and current president, in the 2020 election.

The DPP also lost its majority in the Legislative Yuan, the Parliament. It now has 51 seats, down from 61, and the KMT 52, up from 38. The TPP has eight seats and independents two. Lai’s new government takes power on May 20.

“My government will seek consensus with the opposition before implementing policies and consider including people from other parties in my administration,” Lai said. “The elections have shown us that people want an effective government and strong checks and balances. We fully understand and respect this new public opinion.”

During the campaign, Lai promised to continue the policies of Tsai and maintain the status quo, which is supported by more than 80 per cent of the population. That means no declaration of independence, no unification with China and no war.

All three candidates support the status quo. None accepts the “one country, two systems” offer put forward by Beijing as the only formula for unification. Last Friday Ko said: “Taiwan has its own government, army and financial system. Taiwan absolutely is not Hong Kong. If one country, two systems is the Hong Kong model, there is no market for it here. Taiwan people do not accept it.”
This opposition has intensified since 2019, with the adoption in Hong Kong of the National Security Law, the dissolution of democratic parties and the neutering of most media.

The support for the KMT in the legislative votes reflects public anger on domestic issues, such as income disparity, low wages especially for the young people who cannot afford their own homes in the big cities and a shortage of cheap housing.

Last year Taiwan’s GDP grew by 1.42 per cent. Its trade surplus rose 56.9 per cent to a record US$80.56 billion, with exports of US$432.48 billion, the third highest on record, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said. The main items were audiovisual and information communication products, AI, cloud computing and telematics.

The government’s Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics forecast 2024 growth at 3.35 per cent, thanks to higher demand for exports and lower interests in Europe and the United States.

Since 2022, the People’s Liberation Army has sharply increased air and naval exercises around and above Taiwan, causing many to ask if Beijing is preparing a blockade or a war.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Professor emeritus at Baptist University, said the likelihood of a peaceful resolution was diminishing. “No-one in Taiwan accepts the ‘one-country, two systems’ model nor wants to be part of the PRC. Perhaps they might have accepted a commonwealth, but they have moved on. The time has gone.”

He said that, in military terms, the most likely was a blockade. “China does not have the capability now for a landing. It would carry a very heavy cost. President Biden has said four times that, if China attacked, the U.S. would intervene. If it did not, it would be end of the U.S. hegemony in the Western Pacific. It is nearly impossible not to intervene.”

In a war, the West would impose sanctions against China. “What price would China pay? It is at the heart of the global supply chain. That is a very big deterrent. Beijing would think twice,” Cabestan said. “After the war in Ukraine, China is thinking deeper about a war with Taiwan and its consequences.”

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.