Opinion: The Most Consequential Election in Taiwan’s History

Tomorrow, Taiwanese people living all over the world will make the trek back to their hometown to vote in the Presidential elections. The upcoming election holds many possibilities in regards to the future of Taiwan’s independence. In January, 2019, Xi Jinping, the President of China, announced his support and encouragement of Taiwan to reinstate the “one nation, two system” form of government. Currently, China has this exact form of government with Hong Kong. The citizens of Hong Kong have been protesting for their freedom and sole sovereignty since the summer of 2019. The people in Taiwan have been following the protest closely and fear that what is happening in Hong Kong will be the future of Taiwan. The number one political issue for Taiwanese people is tied to their national identity, the social and agentic issues are secondary.

The incumbent President, President Tsai Ing-wen, is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has held a very firm stance on separation from China. Recently the DPP majority government passed a bill mainly aimed at China — the Anti-infiltration Act. Such an act will bar citizens from accepting money or acting on instructions from foreign hostile bodies to lobby for political causes or make political donations, and even includes provisions on misinformation. The other major party, the Kuomintang (KMT), seems to be enamored with China's desire for the “one nation, two systems” policy, and some think the parties in the pan-blue coalition (KMT) receive funding from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It's important to remember that Hong Kong currently operates under this same idea of “one nation, two systems” where China is essentially in control over Parliamentary leadership. 

The DPP, if re-elected to the Executive Office and are able to maintain control of the Legislative branch, has the opportunity to further secure an independent Taiwan by maintaining an unwavering stance of not accepting the “one nation, two systems” that China proposes.  The situation in Hong Kong led to a surge in the polls for President Tsai as the Taiwanese people were able to see how China’s rule has erupted with chaos from the people seeking freedom and democracy. There is an incredible motivation in Taiwan, especially among the youth, to begin identifying as Taiwanese and not Chinese. Since the Taiwanese people received the opportunity to freely elect their President in 1996, there has been an increase in youth support for independence from China and an increase in support to exist as an independent Taiwan. These issues seem to be the greatest propellant for the cause of independence that exists today in Taiwan. 

If the KMT candidate, Mayor Han Kuo-yul, is elected President he seems intent on opening up and cooperating more with China. Han was the recent underdog in the Kaohsiung mayoral election, which is the second largest city in Taiwan and has been historically pro-DPP. Instead of working to fulfill the promises he made in his mayoral election, he instead chose to immediately run for president of Taiwan. His international popularity and reluctance to criticize the CCP on their actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang has led many to believe that he is in the pocket of the Chinese government. The KMT believe if the CCP would allow for their party to come to the mainland and have free and open elections, then they will be able to reunite China as one country and rule over all of China as a democracy rather than a dictatorship. Now clearly, if China was so ready to abide by the agreements they had in place with Hong Kong or Macau, then obviously they would readily welcome in the democratic process, right? Historically, this has not been the case. If the KMT wins the presidency, they have the opportunity to push back against President Tsai’s progress over the last 3 years, effectively reversing the opportunities for freedom, liberty, and a true independence from China. If Han wins, Taiwan might be on the way to a battle for its freedom, similar to that in Hong Kong, and a vote for him might as well be a vote for mainland China’s rule. 

The people of Taiwan have a huge opportunity here in just a few short days. By re-electing President Tsai and maintaining a legislative majority, Taiwan will have the opportunity of four more years to protect themselves from Chinese control and the opportunity to reach a new generation of Taiwanese people that will continue to fight for independence. The greatest question still remains: at what point will the United States Government recognize Taiwan as an independent country? We all know there are critical negotiations with China scheduled in the Phase 1 trade deal coming just a few days after the election in Taiwan. It would be foolish for the US to weigh in on Taiwanese independence until after this Phase 1 deal is complete. It is clear though that many in Congress favor Taiwanese independence and have supported resolutions in the past that push in this direction. 

The people of Taiwan are amazing and we can see many of the same ideals we value in the United States in what they believe in, such as freedom, liberty, and human rights. On a recent trip, we were able to see firsthand the motivation and excitement behind these two parties as they prepare for Election Day on January 11th. It was clear to us that the KMT lacked the spark that many campaigns require to win elections. On the other hand, the DPP seems to be surrounded by youth, excitement, and vigor. The horrors that have occurred in Hong Kong have only been solidified in a recent trip to this incredible nation, it seemed that the desire of many in Taiwan is to push back against China and maintain their independence. I hope the opportunities for bilateral trade continue to grow every day as it becomes clear that the Taiwanese people would rather trade with the United States than trade with China. 

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Dr. Michael Ward is an emergency physician, retired Air Force Colonel, and a political activist, spending a lot of his time in issue and candidate advocacy. He is a supporter of Taiwanese independence.

Cameron Alexander is a student of history, a believer in freedom, liberty, and human rights. In addition, he is a staunch supporter of an independent Taiwan and Hong Kong.

 

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