Taiwan heads to the polls this weekend in an election that could have significant implications for cross-strait and US-China relations. The election pits the incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) against challengers Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party.
DPP Favored to Win in Final Polls
Final pre-election polls indicate strong support for Tsai and the DPP (Bloomberg). The DPP, which leans towards eventual formal independence from China, holds a commanding lead over the KMT, which favors closer ties. DPP candidate Lai Ching-te in particular has taken a hard line on defending Taiwan’s sovereignty against Chinese aggression (Asia Nikkei).
Ko Wen-je offers a middle path aimed at younger voters, promoting peace and stability in cross-strait relations while resisting outright unification with China (Tribune). Ko’s foreign policy positions remain somewhat ambiguous (CFR).
The expected DPP victory bodes well for Taiwan-US relations, as the DPP aligns more closely with US interests in the region relative to China. Candidates from all parties pledged to boost Taiwan’s defense spending and capabilities in the face of rising Chinese pressure (Taiwan Plus).
|Position on China Relations
|Defend sovereignty, resist unification
|Seek stability, promote exchanges
|Middle path, focus on peace
Table 1: Key Taiwan presidential candidates, latest polling, and positions on China relations (Bloomberg)
China Blasts Taiwan’s Election, Warning of “Destroyer of Peace”
In the lead up to the vote, China has reacted harshly, blasting Tsai as a “destroyer of peace” and the election itself as promoting Taiwan’s formal independence (Inquirer). Tsai and the DPP asserted Taiwan would resist Chinese interference in the democratic process (France24).
Analysts see “little room for compromise” between Tsai and Beijing (SCMP). However, the scale of China’s response may depend on to what degree Tsai and the DPP push forward with promoting Taiwan’s international status and formal independence after the election (SCMP).
US Closely Watching Election Impact on Regional Interests
The US is closely monitoring the Taiwan election and its implications for broader US-China relations (Al Jazeera). While the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it maintains a substantive relationship under the auspices of the Taiwan Relations Act.
Analysts argue the election poses an “early test” of the Biden administration’s aim to keep US-China relations stable amidst rising tensions on a number of fronts (Reuters). A DPP victory and subsequent friction with Beijing could spill over into the broader US-China relationship. However, the US also has an interest in supporting Taiwan’s democracy against Chinese coercion.
Opposition Candidates Attack DPP in Final Push
In a last minute push as the pre-election blackout period went into effect, opposition candidates intensified criticism of Tsai and the DPP. The KMT’s Han called the DPP “corrupt,” while the TPP’s Ko slammed Tsai over stagnating wages (Taiwan Times). Candidates traded barbs over economic and inequality issues in Taiwan, seen as a weak spot for the incumbent Tsai administration (Taiwan Plus).
Uncertainty Remains on Eve of Historic Vote
On the eve of Taiwan’s closely watched 15th direct presidential election, much uncertainty remains over the outcome and subsequent impact. While the DPP appears poised to secure re-election, there is still a possibility of an upset or hung parliament outcome (Channel News Asia). China’s response also remains difficult to predict. The election will set the trajectory of cross-strait relations with consequences for regional stability.
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