What’s Next For Taiwan After The Elections – Analysis


The victory of William Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan sends a clear rebuff to Beijing’s persistent efforts to warn the Taiwanese electorate to snub him. While the DPP has made the stakes clear that the future of Taiwan and its freedom and democracy are on the ballot, the KMT has capitalised on the growing discontent on economic difficulties in hoping to extend its base of support.

It did not materialize as intended. While the younger segments of the population have been deemed to be the biggest pool of support for the movement to defend Taiwan’s autonomy and democracy, rising inflation, cost of living and unemployment have given a new opening for the KMT to stage a comeback. The results have shown that this remains far-fetched for the KMT, although it has managed to pull back through the denial of a majority for the DPP in the parliament. This is in part because of the considerably strong performance by the newcomer, the TPP led by Ko Wen-je.

The KMT has been capitalising on the stagnating economic structure and the main reliance on the semiconductor industry as the main propeller, coupled with the challenges in the food and resource security.

The electorate has given the signal that while it faces rising economic strains, it will not trade these at the expense of its democracy, freedom and the right to dictate the future of Taiwan. The results have also seen the failure of the KMT in enlarging the base of support and the widening trust deficit worsens KMT’s recovery and salvaging efforts.

Xi is facing a deeper time trap and pressure,and with each passing year, the yearning of the Taiwanese for unification with the mainland decreases, which poses another setback for Beijing’s trapped timeline.

While intending to mount a capable force that is able to have a forceful takeover by 2027, current deficiencies in the form of corruption and systemic inadequacies in the military and the experience of Ukraine have provided little interests and capabilities for the PLA and Beijing to consider force.

The fast changing dynamics of demographics in Taiwan will mean that in the years to come, the growing number of younger people will dominate the domestic yearning for autonomy, independent rights to dictate the future and the need to preserve self-determination of free and fair elections and freedom.

Sixty three percent of the population now identify themselves as Taiwanese, and the number is more with the younger demographics. For the younger segments, if they see themselves not as Chinese and that they have been raised in a liberal, free and a democratic environment, there is no reason why they will seek a unification. This is the prevailing and realistic sentiment on the ground.

For them, a vote for the KMT is a vote for China, and despite Hou yu-ih’s best efforts,the prevailing blunders in a series of statements from former President Ma Ying-jeou in calling for the people to trust Xi provided the final blow to any hope of salvaging the people’s support.

Beijing is confronted now with internal setbacks in its military with corruption and lack of proven and realistic on the ground military capacities. It adds to the dilemma of the costs and risks of both action and inaction on Taiwan to China’s power prospects and Xi’s own personal and political legacy.

According to Bloomberg Economics modelling, a Chinese invasion will cost the global economy more than USD10 trillion, more than the Ukraine war and the Covid pandemic. It will also decimate the Taiwan economy and shrink Beijing’s economy by 16.7% and the US by 6.7% in the first year.

A KMT rule will hasten the security dilemma facing Taiwan, at a time when many have been wary of Washington’s readiness and intent of defending Taiwan now worsened by the stretch of a two-pronged conflict in Europe and Middle East and a resurgent Pyongyang.

The Afghanistan withdrawal has cast further doubt on Washington’s support for allies, with wariness on the readiness to fully commit to a deterrence effort for Taiwan especially with the prospect of a changing presidency in the US after 2024.

Some have accused Washington of “weaponising” Taiwan in its quest to contain Beijing’s expansionism and are wary of Washington’s seriousness in defending the island.

Others have foreseen the inevitable fact that even if the battle is won against a Chinese forceful invasion, it would be a laboured victory and Taiwan would remain as scorched earth.

This however, depends on the efficacy and limits of Taiwan’s playbook and leverage. Its porcupine strategy, the unsinkable aircraft carrier tag, regional neighbour extended deterrence with Seoul and Tokyo, the prospect of a nuclear armed Taiwan and a total Washington deterrence will negate and prevent such risks.

Any of these will not be possible under KMT rule, however,and the space to leverage on these direct capacities will likely diminish.The reality remains the overwhelming population especially the young are not buying the argument, especially since what happened to Hong Kong since 2019.

A just-released survey by Academia Sinica stated that only 9.3% of respondents agreed that China is a trustworthy country, while 55.3% disagreed. Perceptions of China’s trustworthiness fell from 13.5% in a 2021 survey.

A recent poll by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation found that among Taiwanese adults, 61% agreed with the statement that “Even if the U.S. contains China out of its own interest, it is necessary for Taiwan.”Only 22% thought U.S. containment of China was not in Taiwan’s interest.

The world’s most massive and speedy military build-up since the world wars has been geared with the primary goal in mind, ending the Century of Humiliation and finally reasserting Taiwan back to its control and identity.

KMT politicians have cast doubt on Tsai’s plan to strengthen national security that involves extending conscription, adopting asymmetric warfare doctrine, developing Taiwan’s own submarine fleet and diversifying the economy away from China.

A KMT victory does not naturally mean a direct peace is on the horizon, as other measures, especially direct approaches with the KMT regime might be sought in bypassing the will of the Taiwanese people in deciding their future.

As much as others would have hoped for Beijing to learn its lesson of the past where increased intimidations and pressure on Taiwan electorate and on Taiwan’s military ahead of the elections only badly backfired on China where these actions further proved the vulnerability of Taiwan and further increased support for DPP, this present sustained pressuring campaign against the people and military apparatus means Beijing is still trapped in the limited diversity and efficacy of its strategic options on Taiwan.

Peace is won through strength, and Trump’s peace through strength approach has produced relatively stable global relations in his four years with a direct showcase of power and strength, and strategic combination of tailor made policy moulding. Any efforts to appease or to project from a position of compromise and submission will weaken the foundation of one’s resolve in protecting long term sovereignty and independence.

The Taiwanese people depend on the will of the leaders to give them the right to choose the future of Taiwan, and will not surrender this right at the mercy of others. Democracy, decency in policy approach and freedom are on the line in this election.

Taiwan’s freedom and democracy are not confined to the boundary of its island alone. It remains the bastion of the global first line of defence in the new realm of might is right mantra.

Taipei’s harbinger of democracy is as much critical and impactful as the fight for freedom in Ukraine, and aftermath of the outcome reverberates far and wide from Jakarta to Buenos Aires. For this reason alone, democracy cannot be left to die in darkness.

Collins Chong Yew Keat

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya, the top university in Malaysia for more than 9 years. His areas of interests include strategic and security studies, American foreign policy and power analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.

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