Will Taiwan choose president who will build stable relations with Beijing?

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe stability of Taiwan’s politics and economy are greatly affected by its relations with China. While China is heightening its intimidating moves toward Taiwan, what kinds of policies toward China will candidates present to the people? Close attention should be paid to their verbal battles.

For the presidential election slated for next January in Taiwan, the largest opposition Nationalist Party picked Han Kuo-yu, mayor of Kaohsiung, as its candidate to face incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, who aims to be reelected. Ko Wen-je, the mayor of Taipei and popular among young people, is also considering running in the race, but the advancing election campaign is focused on the showdown between the two major parties.

The biggest point of contention is Taiwan’s relations with China, which has its eye on unification with Taiwan.

China has announced measures to prohibit individual tourists from traveling to Taiwan. Should such measures be implemented for a protracted period, it will deal a serious blow to Taiwan’s economy. China is also conducting military drills in waters around Taiwan. China’s putting pressure on Taiwan in the run-up to the presidential race cannot be overlooked.

Rather than advocating Taiwan’s independence, which is stated in her party’s platform, Tsai has taken a moderate policy of seeking a continuation of the status quo in its relations with China that is neither pro-independence nor pro-unification.

Despite this policy of Tsai’s, Taiwan’s relations with China have deteriorated. This is because China has refused to have a dialogue with Tsai’s administration, which had not acceded to China’s pressure on Taiwan to accept the principle of “one China.”

Pressure has helped Tsai

Since her administration was inaugurated, the number of tourists visiting Taiwan from mainland China has dropped markedly. Panama and four other countries broke off their relations with Taiwan. As her administration brought about an economic slump and its diplomatic isolation, public support for Tsai declined rapidly.

The tide has changed since Chinese President Xi Jinping brought forward early this year a proposition for the unification of China with Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” framework. Tsai refused China’s proposal, saying that China is trying to unilaterally change the status quo, and increased her criticism of China.

China’s blatant pressure has undoubtedly worked to Tsai’s advantage. As people of Taiwan’s wariness toward China increased, Tsai’s approval ratings recovered. Her undaunted response has apparently won public favor.

It can also be considered a tailwind for Tsai that the demonstrations to protest China’s expansion of its influence in Hong Kong, where the “one country, two systems” framework is applied, have escalated there. Tsai is trying to increase her support among the public by sounding an alarm over China’s intervention.

Tsai visited the United States in July and left the impression that Taiwan would cooperate with the United States, where hard-line opinions toward China are growing. She will be tested as to whether she can present steps to avoid raising tensions with China while maintaining her stance of not compromising with China.

Han of the Nationalist Party is a tactful speaker and a populist, on par with Tsai in popularity. Advocating to improve Taiwan’s relations with China, he asserts that the election is an opportunity for voters to choose either cross-strait stability or a Taiwan Strait crisis. Whether he can overcome voters’ wariness over his pro-China line will be a challenge for Han.

It is important to drive out Beijing’s intervention in the presidential election, and protect freedom and democracy in Taiwan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 5, 2019)Speech


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