Taiwan is one of the states that are going to hold presidential elections on 13th January 2024. Taiwan is one of the most contentious issues between China and the United States. The island was ruled by Japan for almost 50 years. However, it was handed over to the Chinese Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. After Mao Zedong’s victory over the mainland, the Kuomintang, the Nationalists, relocated to the island. Since then, this island has been a matter of contention between China and the United States. Therefore, these elections hold great significance for the people around the world. China considers it a part of its mainland. The United States also accepts China’s “one state, two systems” policy, but it opposes the way the latter deals with Taiwan. On the other hand, China considers Taiwan a purely domestic issue and does not want any external influence and intervention in this issue.
William Lai is the candidate of the ruling party and a staunch advocate of Taiwan’s independence from China. On the other hand, Hou You-yi is the candidate from the opposition benches. The two candidates are running their electoral campaigns at a massive level. Hou You-yi opposes the idea of independence. His views are aligned with that of Beijing’s. Hou is seeking to gather a vote bank based on fear of military conflict with China in case of any attempt for independence. He holds that any conflict with the mainland can draw the United States into the conflict, which could then escalate to the global level and result in the disruption of the global economy. The ruling party has accused China of interfering and influencing the coming elections. Chinese influence or intervention in these elections will help Hou win the elections.
Reportedly, China has increased its military activities near the island to ensure its sovereignty. It also intends to keep the ruling party warned about the military might of the country to abstain from taking any unilateral decision or influencing the elections. China holds the world’s largest military, with almost 2 million active military personnel.
China is one of the rapidly growing economic powers of the world. The country is now considered the new superpower of the world. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project has expanded to 3 continents of the world. This all makes China an attractive place for businessmen in Taiwan. Therefore, Hou’s appeal can resonate well among such people, as he calls these elections a choice between peace and war. Different Chinese airlines have also decreased their ticket prices for flights from the mainland to the island by almost 70 percent. This is also being seen as an attempt by China to influence the coming elections in Taiwan. The ruling party blames China for seeking to increase the participation of pro-China voters in the coming election through this offer. Although the ruling party could be right in its claim, China is also justified in allowing a maximum number of people to participate in the elections under democratic norms.
China has refuted all the claims of the ruling party of Taiwan. It accuses the Taiwan government of exaggerating military threats from the mainland. Wu Qian, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense of China, holds that the ruling party is deliberately playing this tactic to manipulate elections and gain electoral strength. On the other hand, China’s threat to Taiwan of imposing more economic sanctions as the election date is coming closer is also being seen with suspicion around the globe. Such moves somehow endorse the claims of the Taiwan government. On the other hand, if seen from a pragmatic lens, Taiwan has much to lose and less to gain from its independence from China. The United States is using Taiwan for its political leverage in its pursuit of global hegemony and to preserve its identity as the champion of human rights and democracy. Pro-independence people on the island are solely depending on the US for its support in case of any military conflict with the mainland. However, the US response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its history of betrayal to its friends speaks volumes about its credibility as an ally. Moreover, China’s rapid economic growth makes it a suitable destination for the business community. Taiwan’s separation from the mainland will lead to a military conflict between the two sides, which weaken to debilitate the island economically. Moreover, it would also take numerous economic opportunities away from the people of the island. Taiwan will also face difficulty in trade with other countries due to the naval presence of China around its ports. Therefore, the coming elections on the island could be aptly deemed as a choice between war and peace, as they will decide the future trajectory of the relations with the mainland.
Abbas Hashemite – is a political observer and research analyst for regional and global geopolitical issues. He is currently working as an independent researcher and journalist, exclusively for “New Eastern Outlook”.