Taiwan Elections and Impact on U.S.-China Relations
By: Christopher L. Kolakowski, Grant T. Willis, Brendan H.J. Donnelly, Jeffery A. Hollman, Dr. Indu Saxena & Jose Antonio Custodio | Jan 14th 2024
Christopher L. Kolakowski
Lai Cheng-te, the current Vice President of the Republic of
China, has just won a four-year term as President. He will take office in May.
Lai’s election is an important event for the region, and for cross-strait
relations overall. Given his pledges to continue the cross-strait policies of
his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, it should provide some predictability to
Taipei’s actions and stances over the next four years. That said, it is also
the first time since 1996 that one party has won three consecutive terms –
which can be read as a definite shift in the electorate’s mood. All of this
has, and will, serve to put Beijing on alert.
It should be noted that Lai’s running
mate, Hsao Bi-khim, was
once Taiwan’s representative in Washington. The relationships he developed in
that position will prove highly valuable during the next years. The symbolism
of his presence on the ticket also is an affirmation of how Taipei values the
U.S.-Taiwan partnership. The period
between now and the inauguration in May will be worth watching closely, as both
sides may try to exploit the transition to set conditions for the first part of
Lai’s term. This likely could include statements or demonstrations by Beijing –
to include possible military exercises and other demonstrations of power.
Lastly, the election featured a third-party
candidate who won 26% of the vote on a general platform of neutrality. As the
results are analyzed further, it will be interesting to see what they reveal
about the Taiwanese people and their range of views – something that could
potentially be a factor in the coming years and provide openings for Beijing’s
Grant T. Willis
The 2024 Taiwanese elections have
resulted in another Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) victory, with
President-elect William Lai Ching-te continuing the DPP’s hold on power for an
unprecedented third term. The continuation of former President Tsai Ing-Wen’s
policies marks the DPP’s continued position of a separate Taiwanese identity
and the rejection of Communist China’s territorial claim over the island of
nearly 24 million.
As tensions rise in the Indo-Pacific,
with wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, Taiwan’s election represents a clear
signal from Taipei to Beijing that despite any interference efforts made by the
People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan’s population will for the time being,
continue to display defiance to Chairman Xi’s dreams of reunification.
President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have made it clear
that although peaceful reunification is preferred, China touts that it retains
the right to use force to quell any "separatist" attempts of a
declaration of unilateral independence from the mainland. China warned the
Taiwanese voters that their vote would be between "peace and war."
Taiwan’s democratic society and free market economy system seem to disagree
with the CCP’s final vision, but with this victory for continued Taiwanese
sovereignty, the Pacific may see an increase in the likelihood of war between
Beijing and the Western Allies. The status quo may tread forward in the Taiwan
Strait, but Xi’s clock may have moved forward.
With this successful election for the
Alliance’s goal to keep Taiwan separate, the increase in the chances for a
military clash should motivate the principal Allies in the immediate region,
like the United States, Philippines, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, to
increase their conventional defense capabilities to counter a joint invasion of
Taiwan by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Japan has recently taken a major
step by increasing its defense budget by 16 percent, which will make the
Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) the 3rd largest global military power behind
the U.S. and PRC. As the new year dawns, the risk of an expansion of global
conflict into the Pacific remains a constant anxiety in the minds of many
analysts and defense watchers.
It is vital that a conventional Allied
military capability keeps pace with PLA capabilities to deter Beijing from
taking advantage of any perceived vacuum caused by any further instability
elsewhere. Will the DPP’s victory solidify Taiwan’s sovereignty and maintain
the status quo, or will the new administration in Taipei need further support
for the possibility of a red wave poised to make a historic attempt from across
the Strait? We shall see.
Brendan H. J. Donnelly
The new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te of the Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP), as he stated, will work to stand up for Taiwan in
front of China. Still, this election will likely not present a dynamic shift in
the region. This claim stems from the fact that the DPP has its third
president-elect and has held the top position in Taiwan for the last eight
years. For this reason, Beijing already knows that Lai will keep with the
status quo idea that Taiwan is already independent and, therefore, does not
need to declare it, but will cooperate with open discussions. Overall,
Beijing s reaction will likely be much of the same but at a different time.
The immediate reaction from Beijing,
aside from what has already been said, is increased military pressure. For
Beijing to drive home the idea that the DPP is not the party for Taiwan, a
strong, provocative military response, such as incursions into the Taiwanese
airspace and international waters, will occur to put additional pressure on
Taiwan after the election. Next, Beijing will likely refuse to work with Lai
and the DPP since China does not see them as a relevant political party.
Instead, opening relations with the Kuomintang (KMT), who lean more towards
warm relations with China, are the opportune party to build economic and
diplomatic ties with. Ultimately, cooperation between the KMT and Beijing works
towards the goal of combating the rise in the independence ideology displayed
in the 2024 election.
Finally, since the U.S.-China top
leaders met in 2023 and talks were held to reduce the tensions, the Taiwan
election results will impact these discussions. The immediate impact on the
U.S. is that China will very likely call out any support to Lai or the DPP as
Provocative action or direct aggressive politics against Chinese interests.
Although these impacts may sound dramatic; China will likely continue its
rhetoric and attempt to dismantle it. Democracy in Taiwan and harm relations
with the U.S. instead of kinetic or direct actions towards war.
Jeffery A. Hollman
Taiwan’s Presidential election, held on
January 13th, 2024, was probably the most consequential election of this
decade. Stakes remained high as more than thirteen million eligible voters
headed to the polls. The result? A forty percent vote for the ruling Democratic
Progressive Party or DPP, its third straight victory over the China-friendly KMT
and newly formed Taiwan People’s Party. In the months leading up to the
election, China had warned the choice at the polls would be one between
"peace and war, prosperity and decline." Fearing a DPP win, China
denounced its candidate, Lai Ching-te, as a dangerous separatist bent on
Taiwan’s independence. Lai, for his part, has expressed a desire to improve
relations with China through cooperation and dialogue based on mutual respect
and parity. However, that seems unlikely, as Beijing has rebuffed Lai’s calls
for such dialogue.
Given the DPP’s intent to maintain the
status quo and reject the "one country, two systems" model used in
Hong Kong and Macau, it seems war may, in fact, be inevitable, especially if
the U.S. continues to arm the island and maintain a robust forward military
presence in China’s perceived sphere of influence. It seems doubtful China or
Xi Jinping will be able to restrain itself for another four years, given the
volatile situation in the South China Sea, maturing U.S. and allied
capabilities & interoperability, and the trade wars bent on curbing
Beijing’s technological advancements in support of its massive war machine.
But are peace and prosperity an
impossibility? Can expansionist and authoritarian regimes deny their appetite
to dominate their neighbors and dictate the terms of international relations in
their thiefdoms? They cannot; they can only be denied
by greater power or, in this case, collective power. Integrated deterrence is
the only language they understand. They are too proud and stubborn to
compromise, to share power & influence, to sacrifice for the greater good.
A free and open Indo-Pacific is contrary to China’s aims and desires. Though
they speak of prosperity under their rule, they remain blinded by the curse of
authoritarianism, a system that knows no compromise. As the old saying goes,
power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In the Taiwan elections 2024, the Democratic Progressive
Party (DPP) won its third consecutive election, sending a strong message of
democracy, freedom, and self-rule to the Taiwanese people and the Indo-Pacific
region. The current vice president and the new President-elect, Lai Ching-te,
addressed a rally after the results and said, "This is a night that
belongs to Taiwan. We managed to keep Taiwan on the map of the world."
Taiwan’s result stamped the long quest for maintaining its self-identity and
the opposition to altering the status quo. However, something that is not
favorable to Beijing will cause friction. Since China’s President XI Jinping
said in his New Year address that China would "surely be reunified"
Furthermore, after the vote, China
responded, "Taiwan is part of China." However, China’s ambition of
"peaceful reunification" got pushed backward for a while, which could
lead to frustration and anxiety in Beijing. Henceforth, Taiwan will likely see
China’s assertiveness in its territory and the South China Sea.
China’s threat to use force to erode
the sovereignty of Taiwan will further deteriorate the peace and stability in
the region. It is expected that the U.S. will also try to avoid inflaming any
direct conflict situation, given its involvement in a two-front war in the
Mideast and in the Russian-Ukraine conflict. However, Lai’s victory will
continue to close ties with the U.S. and like-minded democracies. It remains to
be seen how proactively Lai’s government engages with the U.S. and other
democratic partners, given his leadership of the divided parliament without a
Taiwan’s election results have regional
implications as the other countries in the region have been closely watching
the developments of U.S.-China relations vis-a-vis Taiwan as an essential
player in the Indo-Pacific regional dynamics.
Jose Antonio Custodio
Lai Ching-Te of the Democratic Progressive Party secured a third
consecutive win for his party in Taiwan s recently concluded Presidential
elections. He won 40% of the votes, with the second and third candidates
securing 33.49% and 26.45%, respectively. Fourteen million Taiwanese voted in
the elections. The DPP stands for Taiwan being a sovereign nation,
strengthening its defenses, and aligning itself with democratic countries,
especially from the West. However, looking at the results, it was not an outright
landslide victory for the DPP, which may provide some opportunities for China
to undermine the Taiwanese government in the future.
To do that, China will closely observe
and, if possible, influence developments in its main rival, which also happens
to be Taiwan s main benefactor, the United States of America. Of interest to
China is the polarized situation in the United States that has created impasses
in the ability of the executive and legislative branches to undertake their
responsibilities. Threats of looming government shutdowns, the very noticeable
physical deterioration of President Joseph Biden, the investigations into his son s
activities, and the refusal of his administration to move decisively on
southern border issues, thus affecting funding for the support of Ukraine and
Israel and even possibly Taiwan, are all pregnant with opportunity for China to
create mischief. What use is a DPP victory if the main guarantor of Taiwan s
existence is wracked by internal discord?
There is a perception that the U.S. is
weak, which is trumpeted by opponents of the Biden administration within the
U.S. and in actions by state and non-state actors in other parts of the world.
Not that the U.S. is physically weak but that it lacks decisiveness and
resolve. The way the Houthis goaded the international community in the wake of
the Gaza War is an example of that perception. Or worse, the way Iran utilized
its terrorist proxies to attack Israeli and American interests in the Middle
East reveals a level of contempt for Americans.
That the U.S. so far has been
ineffective in directly dealing with Iran s transgressions and Teheran remains
unscathed and is on track to obtaining a nuclear weapon in the next few years
is not lost on Beijing. Then there is the Ukraine War, which is going into its
third year a few months from now. From a war of movement in its first year, it
evolved into a stalemate reminiscent of the First World War but fought with
21st-century weaponry. Whatever responses and decisions the U.S. makes on its
support of Ukraine or in the diplomatic field will give Beijing clues as to how
Washington D.C. will respond to Chinese provocative action in and across the
Expect China then to be proactive in
its effort to capitalize on the weaknesses it perceives in the U.S. that
neutralize any timely and effective action taken by the Americans on behalf of
Taiwan. As it is an election year in the U.S., it is not farfetched to think
that China will attempt to shape the environment through its powerful social
media tools, such as TikTok, to create doubt and fear among the American
public. If China manages to sufficiently disrupt the U.S., it then allows for
the application of continued pressure on Taiwan to also create the same level
of distrust and fear among the Taiwanese. Thus, the 40% support for the DPP can
be whittled down, while those in the opposition who are less confrontational or
even sympathetic to Beijing may see their percentages increase with the
corresponding expansion of their influence.
To deal with a country like China requires the display and
projection of American strength not just in its possession and declaration but
in the decisive mobilization of it to push back firmly and
Taiwan voters dismiss China warnings and hand ruling
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Mari. Japan Cabinet OKS Record Military Budget to Speed up Strike Capability,
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Lai: Taiwan just chose a president China loathes. What now? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-67920530
new president will face a divided parliament. Here s why it matters