Fear of China attack will help DPP to retain Taiwan presidency

March 23, 2023 06:00
Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it was preparing weapons and equipment to combat a total blockade of the island by China.

Last week Taiwan newspapers put on their front pages images of nine new domestically developed “suicide drones” similar to those used with great effectiveness by both sides in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This constant talk of war is a gift to Vice President Lai Ching-te, who will be the candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the presidential election to be held in January 2024.

His main opponent will be the candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT), not yet chosen. The most likely choice is Hou Yu-ih, Mayor of New Taipei City and director-general of the National Police Agency from 2006 to 2008.

Lin Min-keung, a civil servant, said: “I will vote for Lai Ching-te. If not, the KMT will repeat what happened in Ukraine. The pro-Russians in Kyiv paved the way for the Russian army to enter the country. The KMT will assist the Communist army to land on Taiwan, take over the Presidential Palace and all will be lost. Lai will keep the situation stable.”

The latest public opinion survey, published on March 10, gave Lai 36.45 per cent of the popular vote, followed by 23.59 per cent for Ko Wen-je, chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party, with the KMT in third place with 18.23 per cent.

In a report seeking parliamentary budget approval last week, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said: “in anticipation of a total blockade of the Taiwan Strait", spending this year would include replenishment of artillery and rocket stocks, and parts for F-16 fighters to strengthen combat continuity.

It said that, in 2022, China's Eastern Theatre Command sent more than 1,700 aircraft into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, more than double the number in 2021 and this posed a "substantial threat" to Taiwan's defense.

At the recently concluded National People’s Congress, leaders showed no relaxation of the military pressure on Taiwan. In a speech earlier this month, President Xi Jinping called for the upgrading of the People’s Liberation Army to “world-class standards” and “win wars.”

A retired Taiwan diplomat said Xi was seeking an opportunity to take over Taiwan. “A blockade is such an opportunity. We had a rehearsal in August 2022 when the PLA held exercises around the island during the visit of Nancy Pelosi.

“The PLA will announce it is holding military exercises in large areas of the Taiwan Strait, to prevent aircraft and ships from entering them. Last year almost half of the world’s container fleet passed through them. Then the U.S. and Japan will have to decide how to react and if and how to challenge this action,” he said.

At a seminar in Taipei last week on cross-strait relations after the NPC, Chao Chun-shan, an honorary professor at Tamkang University, said that, after the 2024 presidential election, Beijing would co-operate with a party that recognised the 1992 Consensus (which the DPP does not) and opposed Taiwanese independence.

“If the party does not, Beijing will use non-peaceful measures, like economic blockade and economic sanctions,” he said.

In the election campaign, the KMT candidate will argue that only his party could bring about a relaxation of this worsening tension and improve ties with China, in trade, investment, aviation, tourism and people-to-people exchanges. In 2020, China,
including Hong Kong, accounted for 43.9 per cent of Taiwan’s exports, a record. In 2021, the figure was 42.3 per cent.

Among the Taiwan public, many are surprisingly calm about the regular intrusions of PLA jets and aggressive rhetoric of China’s leaders.

David Liang, a primary school teacher said: “No one I know is emigrating because of the threats from China. The Communists have been intimidating and threatening us for 30 years. But they have not attacked. No political leader here will declare independence. If he said he would, he would immediately be voted out. Lai Ching-te will certainly not do it.”

Lin Han-chien, a retired garment trader who went frequently to the mainland over 15 years, said that he slept easily at night. “Since 1949, Taiwan has been an international, not a domestic, issue. It is not in the interests of the U.S. and Japan to allow China to take over Taiwan, especially its semi-conductor industry. The whole world depends on it.

“Of course, our military is small compared to the PLA. But we believe in the promises of the U.S. and Japan to defend us,” he said. “In January, I will vote for Lai. He is a Taiwanese like me. We do not trust the Kuomintang and fear they would do a deal with Beijing. Their leaders have children and properties in the U.S. just in case. We Taiwanese have nowhere to escape.”

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.