Home Mel Gurtov: The Taiwan elections

Mel Gurtov: The Taiwan elections

Mel Gurtov
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In normal times, a presidential election in Taiwan is mainly about domestic issues, not relations with the People’s Republic of China. But the election January 13 put unusual focus on those relations, pumped up by dire warnings from Beijing and baseless predictions from some politicians and military officers in the US that China will invade Taiwan in coming years.

The candidates were: from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the country’s vice-president since 2020, Lai Ching-te (賴清德); from the Kuomintang (KMT), Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜), the mayor of New Taipei City; and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲)of the Taiwan People’s Party. Beijing paid very close attention to this election, since the DPP emphasizes Taiwan’s autonomy but resists speaking of Taiwan’s independence, and the KMT favors closer relations with the mainland. The TPP shied away from the China issue and talked more about economic and social issues.

The results: victory for the DPP and Lai Ching-te. He won 40 percent of the vote, a plurality sufficient to win in the Taiwan system, though not nearly as strong a win as outgoing Pres. Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP scored twice, with around 50 percent of the popular vote each time.

Lai will also have to deal with opposition control of the Legislative Yuan, though indications so far are that at least on national security issues, he’ll have majority support for protecting Taiwan’s independent spirit while not provoking Beijing.


Predictably, Beijing reacted to the election by reaffirming that nothing has changed: Taiwan belongs to China. Chinese officials refer to President Biden’s statements reaffirming opposition to Taiwan’s independence and support for unification with the mainland only if accomplished peacefully, by decision of the Taiwanese. So long as “peaceful reunification” remains Chinese policy, and no independent Taiwan plus “strategic ambiguity” remains US policy, a US-China crisis over Taiwan should be avoidable. What is probably not avoidable is continued Chinese military harassment of Taiwan and continued US military aid and diplomatic support of Taiwan.

Still, the question is worth asking: What might China do in Taiwan if Beijing took it over? Here’s what China’s ambassador to France, speaking on French television, said: “reeducate” the population. “Why do I say ‘reeducate’?” Ambassador Lu Shaye said. “Because the Taiwan authorities have imposed a ‘de-Sinicization’ education on the population, which is effectively indoctrination and intoxication. Reeducation is necessary to eliminate separatist thought and secessionist theory.”

Does this view represent official Chinese policy? Beijing hasn’t rebuked the ambassador, but neither has it said anything about a post-“liberation” policy.

Beijing might pay attention to the message sent to Taiwan by the Hong Kong Democracy Council:

“Congratulations to Lai Ching-te for his victory in Taiwan’s presidential election. We Hong Kongers look on with admiration & envy as Taiwanese continue to exercise their right to vote freely & fairly & their right to self-determination. A true inspiration.”

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.