Taiwan election

In a paper published by the Brooking Institution, Kharis Templeman of Stanford University says that “Taiwan will hold its presidential and legislative elections on Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 09.44.28January 11, 2020 … [that’s just hours from now] … The incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), appears increasingly likely to prevail over her main challenger, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). In the legislative campaign, the DPP now has better than even odds to retain its majority over the KMT and several smaller parties. As recently as six months ago, President Tsai’s path to re-election looked difficult. But the eruption of protests in Hong Kong and surprisingly robust economic growth in Taiwan, combined with the latest steps in Beijing’s ongoing pressure campaign, significant missteps by the opposition KMT and potential independent challengers, and continuing tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), have together left her and the DPP in a greatly improved electoral position.” This will be a highly desirable result. President Tsai Ing-wen is a democrat who supports better relations with China but opposes reunification unless and until China is as democratic as is Taiwan.

Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are models of democratic capitalism … they are not especially liberal societies ~ most, like China, are conservative in the sense that they are very Confucian and, therefore, put the needs of the family, the community and the country ahead of the desires of the individual. Confucianism also tends to instil in its adherents a very high regard for a paternalistic social order, as the early post-war histories of most of the East Asian countries show. But all are proof positive that the strong institutions ~ including the rule of law, civil rights for (almost) all, and free and fair elections ~ which we associate with liberal democracies can be successfully grafted on to the bodies politic of very conservative societies.

There is an important lesson here for Xi Jinping.

Dr Templeman writes that “If President Tsai does win another term, the Taiwan policy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping will be at a critical juncture. Xi could decide to continue with the “dual-track” strategy of external pressure and selective engagement that the PRC has pursued for the last four years. But that approach has not so far delivered on its objectives and may have actually been counterproductive in the short run. So, a Tsai win in the presidential race could instead force a reevaluation of Beijing’s goals, strategy, and tactics … [and] … President Tsai herself could also be in a stronger position after the election to try to reset the cross-Strait relationship. She will no longer have to worry about re-election, and she may be less constrained by a need to placate the more pro-independence, “deep green” wing of her party. Depending on the results of the legislative election, she might also be denied a DPP majority and need to forge a working coalition there with one or more centrist parties. The beginning of her second term would provide a good opportunity to consider additional steps that Beijing has long demanded of her, such as freezing or eliminating the Taiwan independence clause in the DPP party charter. If she could be confident of some positive reciprocation from the PRC side, she might be willing to try.

Most (mainland) Chinese people that I know believe that Taiwan is an integral part of China, that it is the “missing” province. The reunification of China has been a national goal for two generations. Many Taiwanese also believe in eventual reunification, but only under strict conditions … conditions which, for now, seem to be anathema to Xi Jinping and the autocrats in Beijing.

Some people think that the military conquest of Taiwan will be easy for the massive Chinese military. They are wrong. An opposed amphibious assault (think D Day in 1944) is one of the most complex and risky of all military operations, perhaps only equalled in danger by an (opposed) airborne assault. Taiwan is a heavily defended island. It has a good army and navy and an effective air force. It will not be a push-over. It can be conquered but it will be a smoking ruin and I am not persuaded that the Chinese could manage a Marshall Plan type of reconstruction as the US did in the 1940s and ’50s, for Japan.

China is firmly committed to being THE regional hegemon in South East Asia, it aims to displace America as the indispensable nation in Asia. India may have something to say about that ~ it will, at least, limit Chinese ambitions to East Asia. I believe that the eventual reunification of China is inevitable … but only after Xi Jinping is gone or has changed his policies.

All democrats, all over the world, should wish President Tsai Ing-wen well on 11 January.

 

 

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