Vote for status quo: On ruling party's win in Taiwan

The ruling party’s win in Taiwan will make the dispute with China more difficult to resolve

January 14, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

Taiwan’s pro-democracy President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election, with a record mandate since the country’s first direct elections of 1996, could further strain ties with China. Ms. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered major losses in the 2018 local elections, but on Saturday, she took over 57% of the vote against her challenger, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which once ruled in China before moving to Taiwan. Opposition to Beijing’s one-country two-systems policy has long defined the ruling DPP. The Hong Kong protests have only served to bring into sharp relief the consolidation of democracy and sovereignty in Taiwan ahead of the weekend’s elections. Indeed, the Opposition’s landslide victory in Hong Kong’s local elections in November added momentum to Ms. Tsai’s own prospects. In a campaign marred by allegations of Chinese fake news and social media trolls on DPP candidates, she was subject to attacks on the authenticity of her degree from the London School of Economics, which the latter has confirmed. Also, the ruling party’s consolidation has coincided with the emergence of an assertive China, and with attempts of U.S. President Trump to use Taipei as a bargaining chip in his trade war with China.

Taiwan’s future remains unfinished business for China’s President Xi Jinping, who, in October, presided over the 70th anniversary of the revolution. He has in the recent past declared his intention to use force to unify Taiwan with the mainland. For his part, Mr. Trump departed from protocol after his election when he received Ms. Tsai’s congratulatory call. Recent U.S. legislation to promote Taipei relations did not go down well in Beijing. China has meanwhile leveraged its economic clout to influence much of Africa and Latin America to withhold recognition to Taiwan as a sovereign state. According formal recognition to the island nation’s official name, the Republic of China, is among the DPP’s conditions for initiating dialogue with Beijing. A ratcheting of the rhetoric by Taipei and Beijing is more likely now. But it is unlikely that Mr. Xi would want to risk global recrimination from any aggressive military display either against Taiwan or Hong Kong. Taiwan’s zealous defence of its market economy and democratic freedoms may not seem compatible with the China model of state-sponsored capitalism and one-party rule. Yet, it may not be too fanciful to imagine the establishment of a possible modus vivendi , built on the mutual interest on either side to maintain the operation of market forces. A resolution of the historic dispute could be long-drawn. But a constructive and democratic international response would be for the big powers to desist from exploiting the situation to promote their own interests.

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