Friday October 18, 2019

TAIWAN ELECTIONS CAUSE CONCERN OVER CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS

December 4, 2014

Taiwan’s midterm elections ended in a major loss for the country’s ruling Kuomintang party (KMT). The Democratic Progressive Party, the DPP, seized 13 of 22 city and county level seats, while the KMT won only six. Not only did the KMT lose decisively, but it also lost seats in areas that have traditionally been party strongholds, including Taipei. The results place the DPP on a strong footing for the presidential election in 2016.

This political defeat of the KMT is not entirely unexpected. Current Taiwanese President and KMT member Ma Ying-jeou’s approval ratings have dropped startlingly low since he assumed office in 2008, with some polls placing ratings at under 18%. In a statement issued soon after the election results, Ma apologized for the KMT’s disappointing performance and pledged to “quickly offer a party reform plan to address everyone’s demands. I won’t avoid responsibility.” On Tuesday, Ma resigned from his position as KMT Chairman.

Many analysts believe the KMT owes its loss to backlash from younger generations against Ma and KMT policies of pursuing friendly relations with China. The KMT under Ma has made great strides in bringing Taiwan and China closer together. He has overseen increased travel between the mainland and Taiwan, and increased cross-strait investment. Younger generations see Ma’s policies as decidedly pro-China, designed to move Taiwan and China towards reunification. The DPP, on the other hand, favors a more cautious policy towards China, arguing that talks should be held, but that they should not be controlled by China. In the past, the DPP has asserted that Taiwan is independent of China entirely and that the two countries should not move towards reunification.

Students have been making their stance on relations with China known, loud and clear, since March, when a proposed trade deal with Beijing sparked protests. In what was dubbed the Sunflower Movement, student protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan and held rallies in opposition to the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which they feared would make Taiwan vulnerable to Beijing control. Other trade deals, supposedly aimed to breathe new life into the Taiwanese economy, have disproportionately benefited the wealthy friends of the KMT.

Hong Kong has played a role in cross-strait relations as well. Protests in Hong Kong have led many in Taiwan to question the reality behind China’s “one country, two systems” policy. In September, Taiwan’s students again gathered, this time in solidarity with the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement.

Despite the discontent over Ma’s policies, it is unlikely that voters in Taiwan’s midterm elections had China policy on their minds. At the local level, voters were thinking of economic and other domestic issues. Yet, the possibility of a DPP win in the 2016 presidential election has attracted the attention of the Chinese government. Beijing carefully censored Chinese media to avoid links being made between the Taiwanese election results and mainland politics. A directive from China’s propaganda engine instructed media to avoid hyping the election and “uniformly delete all content attacking the political system of the mainland.” In response, mainland media blamed the KMT defeat on Ma’s domestic policies.

The United States, too, should watch developments in Taiwan carefully. The U.S. relationship with Taiwan has been the primary cause of friction between the U.S. and China since 1949. The U.S. has friendly relations with Taiwan and an obligation to defend the island’s right to determine its own governance, but it also wants to avoid breaking relations with China or entering an armed confrontation with China. China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it attempts to declare independence.

Beijing has good reason to be concerned, considering the protests in Hong Kong, continued unrest in Xinjiang, and potential conflict with Taiwan. But, the Party has proven resilient and adaptable. For now, the United States can only wait and see how events play out, while preparing for any possibility.

For more information on this topic, consult the following sources:

BBC – “China media: Taiwan election ‘no rejection of Beijing’”

China Daily – “Mainland police not to blame”

Christian Science Monitor – “Why is China feeling unloved? Look to Hong Kong and Taiwan”

CNN – “Taiwan’s ‘black Saturday’ election: A rebuke to China”

Foreign Policy – “Repeat After Me: Taiwan’s Elections Had Nothing to do with Hong Kong”

Reuters – “Taiwan’s ruling party in crisis as China factor looms large”

Taipei Times – “Separate polls put Ma’s approval rate under 18 percent”

U.S. News – “Taiwan’s Election and the Dangerous Implications for China”

Haiwai (海外网) – “马英九辞职能否换救国民党?”

People’s Daily (人民日报) – “’九合一“结果对 两岸影响几何?“

Compiled and edited by Molly Bradtke