DPP to win presidency, Taiwan moves further from China

January 04, 2024 08:47
Lai Ching-te, Taiwan's vice president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) presidential candidate waves to supporters at an election campaign event. Photo: Reuters

On January 13, Lai Ching-te is set to become president of Taiwan, marking the first time that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won the post for a third consecutive term.

Latest opinion polls give him about 38 per cent of the vote, against 33 per cent for Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang and 20 per cent for Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party. In Taiwan, the winner does not require more than 50 per cent of votes, only the largest number.

The victory is a sign of the increasing gap between Taiwan and China. Xi’s China is Marxist and conservative; it puts security, internal and external, above growth and its economy is dominated by state firms. In Taiwan, private companies dominate, and the election is an example of a raucous democracy that China would never allow.

Just as the Ukrainians do not want to live in Putin’s Russia, so the vast majority of Taiwanese do not want to live in Xi’s China.

The poll numbers have shown little change during a noisy election campaign, including televised debates and a blizzard of news, true and fake, on social media.

During intense talks in the week before the deadline for the candidates to register, Ko almost agreed to run as the vice-presidential candidate of Hou. This would have united the opposition votes and enabled Hou to defeat Lai.

But, at the last minute, under pressure from his supporters, Ko refused. He decided to run on his own. Taiwan people joked: “who is sleeping above and who is sleeping below?”

Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP has been president since 2016. That year she won 56 per cent of the votes, against candidates of the KMT and the People’s First Party, and, in the 2020 election, 57 per cent against a single KMT candidate.

This time opposition candidates have had strong economic grievances to campaign on – low wages and high property prices that make it impossible for young people to buy apartments in major cities, shortage of public housing, income inequality and worsening trade and other ties with China.

Hou said that a vote for the DPP would lead to a war with Beijing and that only he would be able to insure good relations and a resumption of official exchanges that Beijing has suspended since 2016.

But not enough voters have been convinced. More have accepted the DPP presentation of events. “President Xi Jinping no longer accepts the existence of the Republic of China,” Lai said in a television debate on December 27. “He has vowed to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control.”

Xi has said that, after unification, Taiwan would be governed by the same “one country, two systems” formula used in Hong Kong and Macao.

David Liang, a political consultant in Taipei, said that Taiwan people had lost hope in this formula with the imposition of the National Security Law, the end of public debate and the dissolution of opposition parties in Hong Kong. “How can they have any faith in Beijing’s promises?” he said.

Regular PLA air and naval exercises around and above Taiwan, including the firing of missiles over the island, has further alienated Taiwan people against China, he added.

Lai said that, during the DPP’s eight years in power, Taiwan had successfully exported high-tech products around the world. “My policy is to boost our trade with the world so that Taiwan has a strong presence in the international community,” he said.

According to official forecasts, Taiwan’s exports in 2023 will exceed US$400 billion, the third highest on record after US$479.4 billion in 2022 and US$446.4 billion in 2021. The island is a key link in the global technology supply chain for companies such as Apple and Nvidia. It is home to the world’s largest contract chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC).

As of December 2023, Taiwan citizens had visa-free entry to 109 countries in the world, including the U.S., UK and EU countries.
The constant PLA exercises and statements by President Xi on unification have made the issue of a Chinese invasion or blockade of Taiwan an issue in governments and thinktanks around the world.

Joerg Wuttke, head of BASF in China and Emeritus Chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said that the DPP would win. “DPP leaders will have to be aware of any noises they make and be coached by the U.S. and European leaders not to cross the red line. The EU should have a strong economic relationship with Taiwan and tell them: ‘we do not want you to become independent’. The status quo is best.

“A blockade or war is not possible militarily. Beijing looks at Ukraine and Russia. It has clearly understood that the West would respond (to a war) with sanctions. We need deterrence and assurance,” he said.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.