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Why is there so much talk about Taiwan’s election?

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Taiwan’s national election day is approaching. Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in this island nation of 2.4 million people on January 13. As election day draws nearer, the debate heats up.

The discussion is mainly about the struggle between the two superpowers over Taiwan. Even if the names are not mentioned, it is not difficult to understand that the two countries are called China and America. China has always said that Taiwan is part of its territory. It will be annexed to its territory at any cost. And America says, if China uses force in Taiwan, they will not tolerate it.

The presidential election is going to be held in the country when the two countries are in such a state of war around Taiwan. A lot will depend on who will be elected president. Therefore, various discussions have started around Taiwan’s election.

Some commentators say that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) never ruled Taiwan. Still, why they are so desperate to associate Taiwan with China is not understandable to the ordinary people of Taiwan. Most people in the island nation identify as ‘Taiwanese’ rather than ‘Chinese’ and never want to be part of Beijing.

On the other hand, America has been giving full support to Taiwan. Exactly why their unwavering support is still unclear to critics. Critics say it is America’s ‘strategic ambiguity’. However, there is no ambiguity about the position of China and America on the Taiwan issue. Every time China says something about Taiwan, the US reacts.

If these two powerful countries really fight over Taiwan, the people of Taiwan will be in the most danger. So they are now very worried about the upcoming elections. Taiwanese people want to elect him as the president who will maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait. Because it is a question of their existence.

Who are the election candidates?
Public support for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Lai Ching-te has been high so far. He is serving as the Vice President of the current President Tsai Ing-wen. Apart from this, the former ambassador of Taiwan to America, Xiao Bi Khim, is also in discussion.

The DPP believes that in order to keep Taiwan stable, relations with America must be deepened. But America doesn’t like Lai Ching as much as it likes Hsiao Bi Khim. Outgoing President Tsai Ing-Wen was also a well-liked person in America.

On this side, Lai Ching’s name is not even in China’s list of favorites. The Chinese government openly disdains Li, which has already been reported in the world media. China often says Lai is a ‘troublemaker’.

Also in the presidential race is Hou Yue, the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) party known as ‘conservative’. Former police officer Hou is now the popular mayor of New Taipei City. KMT thinks that How is very popular with the youth. These young people will elect him as president.

But experienced pollsters say that Zhanu is not smart enough to ‘manage’ China and America. Because he has no diplomatic experience. In addition, voters see inconsistencies in Howe’s words. He also said to maintain good relations with China for economic development, and said that he would not accept the ‘one country, two systems’ model proposed by China. As a result, his position on the China issue is not clear to the voters.

  Howe addressing supporters.  Photo: Reuters

Another candidate discussed is Ko Wen-Jie, leader of the newly formed Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). The former mayor of Taipei was Ko. He was a doctor before entering politics in 2014. Ko said he would follow a policy between the DPP and the KMT on the China issue if he becomes president.

What are the problems?
Dealing with China is being touted by all candidates as a major issue. Although the problem is not new, Taiwan has been under threat of Chinese aggression for a long time. However, tensions between China and Taiwan have increased recently. China has increased its military exercises around the Taiwan Strait. US intelligence says that China may take over Taiwan within the next decade.

The issue of war or peace is also being discussed again and again in the campaigns of the candidates. Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide victory by campaigning like this in the 2020 election as well. Last month, he also told a rally, “We don’t want Hong Kong-style peace.” We want dignified peace.

On the other hand, KMT leader Hou says that voting for the DPP candidate means sending all of Taiwan to the battlefield. Because DPP will provoke Taiwan to war with China, no doubt.

Although Taiwan’s inflation rate is slightly lower than the rest of the world (2.92 cents), most Taiwanese feel that the cost of living here is too high. Therefore, a third of people think that keeping the economy stable will be the main challenge of the next president. Lowering the cost of living is now a major issue for voters.

Both Lai and Howe, meanwhile, have pledged to raise the minimum wage. As a result young voters are attracted to them. Bonnie Glaser, the managing director of the US think tank German Marshall Fund and an expert on Taiwan, said that the country must have a relationship with China to solve all the economic challenges that Taiwan is currently facing. It is impossible to solve all these problems by completely separating from China.

Taiwan is an import dependent country. About 97 percent of its required fuel has to be imported. As a result, this issue has also been discussed by many educated voters. The country experienced massive blackouts in 2017, 2019 and 2022 due to lack of energy. Millions of people were upset with the government due to power outages. If China imposes sanctions on Taiwan, Taiwan will be able to survive for a maximum of 200 days with the amount of gas, coal and oil reserves that Taiwan has. Therefore, the Taiwan government has set a target to increase the reserve.

The issue of resuming the nuclear power program is also being discussed ahead of the elections. Because in 2016 President Tsai scaled down the nuclear power program after coming to power. Taiwan’s only nuclear power plant is scheduled to shut down in 2025. In such circumstances, Howe is promising to restart the nuclear power program.

How Taiwan’s Election Concerns China
Taiwan’s presidential election is being watched very closely by Beijing. Experts say China’s pressure on whoever is elected president will increase. In his New Year’s address, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, ‘The reunification of the motherland is a historical inevitability.’ That is, he considers the unification of China and Taiwan inevitable. But experts believe Xi will try to achieve his goals through political and economic pressure rather than all-out war.

Apart from these, some of China’s activities surrounding Taiwan’s election are visible. such as spreading rumours. For days, Beijing has been saying that poisoned pigs imported from the US are being fed to Taiwanese citizens and secretly collecting blood from the people and sending it to the US to make biological weapons to attack China.

Ko Wen Jie is running the election campaign.  Photo: Reuters

According to analysts, by spreading these rumours, China is trying to create mistrust of the US among Taiwanese and create a rift in the relationship.

A 2021 survey found that Taiwanese people trust America more than China. 45 percent of people who took part in that survey said that they consider America a better friend than China. However, a poll last year showed that 34 percent of Taiwanese people trust America.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday that they detected three Chinese balloons in the Taiwan Strait. By flying these balloons, China is endangering Taiwan’s flight.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry statement also said it was documenting Chinese efforts to interfere in the election and would release its analysis after the vote.

It is not possible to say who will be elected the president of Taiwan in the next January 13 election. In the same way, it is not possible to say who will be the president of the United States in the next November election. Until then, how the relationship between America and Taiwan will be depends on who is going to be the new president of Taiwan. So, because of geopolitical reasons, Taiwan’s election is now at the top of the global discussion.

References: The Guardian, BBC, AFP and Reuters



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