The general elections in Taiwan that are due in half a year (on January 13, 2024) are gradually becoming the most important of the factors accompanying the development of the Taiwanese agenda. Especially since various maneuvers around this agenda are continued by the USA and the PRC. That is, again, the importance of the factor of domestic political processes on the island, that by itself plays mostly the part of an important pretext and reason for a squabble between the currently-leading global powers, is drastically increasing (possibly, for a short period, but still increasing).
First of all, it’s important to make note of the recent distinct appearance on the Taiwan political field of a certain kind of a “third force” in the person of the People’s Party of Taiwan. The remaining other two are the now ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Kuomintang. The latter had ruled on the island during almost the entire post-World War II period, with the exception of the periods of 2000-2008 and since 2016. In fact, the main intrigue of the forthcoming elections until recently could be boiled down to the question of whether Kuomintang would be able to come to power once again. As it did back in 2008.
But within the recent few months the People’s Party of Taiwan (PPT) interfered in the struggle between the two key political rivals. It’s worth repeating that this party, officially and in its present form, has been around only since 2019. Though it has its own, one hundred years old historical roots, and one of these was in place when the town (under the name of Formosa) was part of the Japanese Empire in general and during World War II in particular.
In this connection, note again that the modern Taiwan residents are quite flattered by the fact of the “Japanese occupation.” That largely explains the ease with which the nowadays Japan defines, more and more clearly, the process of its certain “return” to Taiwan. Notably, Tokyo is beginning, more and more conspicuously, to come out of Washington’s shadow concerning both the Taiwanese agenda and its own positioning in the Asia Pacific region on the whole. Of course, both Tokyo and Beijing continue aligning their actions in the global arena, unceasingly declaring the “fundamental nature” of the bilateral Treaty of 1960. However, one cannot exclude the possibility of (re-) appearance of Japan as the main rival of the PRC in the Asia-Pacific on the whole and in the Taiwanese agenda in particular.
Such prospect may prove to be not too remote. It may even come sooner if neocon Trotskyists are removed from power in the USA and are replaced by “neo-isolationists” who are much more natural for this country. Thus, a serious service will be rendered not only to their own country’s population but to the whole of mankind. “Neo-isolationists” will be doing even a greater service if they initiate creation of an international tribunal to investigate all the conditions of dissemination of the “new normal” all over the world, the struggle against the “human factor in climatic changes” and transition to the “green economy,” as well as instigating a new global war in general.
Returning to the subject of appearance of a new important player in the person of the PPT in Taiwan’s political field, let us emphasize that this party asserted itself convincingly enough just a year after its registration at its first general elections (in 2020) and during the elections to the local authorities held last November. In both cases, it came third. Kuomintang was the one who best passed the “preliminary exam” among the Taiwanese voters. While the result of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could be described as a crushing defeat.
Still, even back then, that is in the wake of the very recent elections held, experts warned against hasty forecasts regarding the results of the forthcoming general elections, in the course of which the whole composition of the one-chamber Parliament of Taiwan would be changed and a new President elected. An important circumstance is that the still quite popular Tsai Ing-wen, that is, today’s President of Taiwan, will not be able to nominate herself on behalf of the DPP as she holds this office for the second consecutive time.
This factor constitutes a risk element for the DPP. And now William Lai, a relatively unknown politician who replaced Tsai Ing-wen in her position of the head of the DPP only late last year, after she assumed responsibility for the aforementioned defeat of the party she headed, will try and secure the position of the President. The monthly probing of voters’ preferences shows that the level of support of Lai, though notably higher than that of his two other competitors, is still only at about 35%. This is not enough to win in the first round, which requires 50% plus one vote.
Meanwhile, as May polling data shows, Ko Wen-je from PPT broke forth and with 25% now holds second place. Most probably, in this case it is the usual effect of voters’ growing sick and tired of the same two actors routinely replacing each other in the forefront rather than any specific program differences that determined this outcome.
As regards the Kuomintang candidate, Hou Yu-ih, he slipped back to the third place with 18% after losing 8% of voters in just a month. And that despite that mere half a year ago, during the local elections, he quite convincingly defeated his rival from the DPP to retain the post of the mayor of the “New Taipei” (the city agglomeration of “Taipei” with the total population of over 8 million people is divided into two autonomous administrative units).
According to Taiwanese experts, this fact demonstrated possibly the only “chink in Hou’s armor” – he showed himself to be a good manager but rather “a dull politician.” And the role of the national leader requires a strong charisma from a candidate.
One should also keep in mind that registration for presidential (and parliamentary) elections of candidates who have now passed the “party sieve” will take place not earlier than in November. Meaning that the parties still have time to do some course correction.
The latter remark appears relevant in connection to the complicated situation inside the Kuomintang. In this party, which was originally were closely rooted in the “mainland” (it initially consisted almost fully of the continental Chinese who had arrived in the island together with Chiang Kai-shek), the profile of the “ethnical” Taiwanese is strengthening. Hou Yu-ih is considered to be one of these Taiwanese. In this connection, it is worth noting that he has not yet been congratulated on the representation of Kuomintang at the forthcoming elections by the last president (in the period of 2008-2016), Ma Ying-jeou. Who, to reiterate, has recently paid a successful visit to the PRC, that is, to the land of his ancestors.
In the meantime, Kuomintang (in principle) has another, and quite promising, candidate – a successful innovation technology businessman Terri Gou. He presently holds the position of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of one of the global leaders in this sphere, Foxconn. Given how successful he is in this position one would assume that ruling Taiwan would be a piece of cake for Gou. Besides, he has personal friendly relations with the PPT candidate. Given the latter fact, the Taiwanese experts discuss the possibility of some cooperation of this party with Kuomintang at the forthcoming elections.
All in all, there are still many uncertainties regarding the upcoming elections. And yet the outcome of this very election will to a great extent determine the further development of relations between Beijing and Washington. Washington’s comprehensive activity on the Taiwan agenda is only increasing. The latest landmark event on this agenda was the conclusion on June 1 of the interim agreement between the US and Taiwan as part of the long declared so-called “US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade.”
The most remarkable fact here was the signing of the document on the part of the USA by Deputy Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi, that is, a representative of the current administration. A fortnight earlier, a statement to this effect was made on the official website of the Office of the US Trade Representative by Katherine Tai, Bianchi’s superior.
Note that is is women who are put in charge of dealing with the real affairs of a leading global power. All the while men keep spewing all sorts of nonsense such as “securing military dominance over potential enemies.” Like children playing toy soldiers.
Needless to say, the (also official) response the signing of this document elicited in the PRC was harsh. Incidentally it was also announced by a woman. Apparently matriarchy is returning to the modern world. And probably for a good reason.
One could wonder why the former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull came to Taiwan. Even before him, Taiwan had heard its fair share of sophisticated speeches on the “Democratic Leadership in a Populist Age.” Meanwhile, the mere fact of such (genuinely uncommon) visit directly contradicts the attempts made by the current Australian government to straighten the anti-Chinese tilt in its foreign-policy that showed its first signs back when members of Turnbull’s party ruled the country. That same party whose government prepared the ground for Australia to ultimately buy Virginia submarines from its big brothers and basically bankroll their strategic ambitions.
In any event, there can hardly be any doubt that both this visit and activization of one of Australia’s big brothers in Taiwan are largely due to that very factor of the upcoming general elections on the island.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”