Some Perspectives On The Future Situation In The Taiwan Region – Analysis


By Kung Chan and He Jun

On January 13, 2024, Taiwan saw its election for the leadership taking place. As anticipated, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidates, William Lai and his deputy Hsiao Mei-chin emerged as the winners. Lai garnered 5.586 million votes, constituting approximately 40.05% of the total; Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou You-yi received 4.671 million votes, representing around 33.49%; and Taiwan’s People Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je obtained 3.69 million votes, accounting for approximately 26.46%.

In this election, the DPP made a historic achievement by securing a third leadership term, breaking the longstanding pattern of power rotation between the two major parties in the Taiwan region. While Lai received 2.584 million fewer votes than Tsai Ing-wen’s 8.17 million in 2020, the DPP still won the election despite facing an almost 60% “disapproval rate”. This outcome indicates a complete failure of the KMT-TPP coalition’s goal to oust the DPP.

However, in the 113 seats of the Legislative Yuan, the KMT won 52 seats, the DPP secured 51 seats, the PFP gained 8 seats, and there were 2 seats for independents or those not endorsed by any political party. With a slim one-seat advantage, the KMT leads the DPP. As the DPP has lost its majority, it may face obstruction from the KMT in future governance, making the TPP with its mere 8 seats a potential “key minority party” that could influence legislative dynamics.

With the dust settling after the election, what are the prospects and trends for the Taiwan region? Will it trigger a larger Taiwan Strait crisis? How will the future cross-strait relations unfold?

Based on continuous monitoring of the Taiwan Strait situation, researchers at ANBOUND offer the following personal perspectives:

Firstly, the KMT’s dominant position in Taiwan is gradually declining and will continue to shrink. Despite the DPP seeing a significant decline in approval ratings with numerous challenges during its governance, the KMT still failed to secure the election, indicating its inability to keep pace with the current political trends. The KMT’s supporters are predominantly elderly, as it lacks appeal to the younger generation. This is a sign of its ongoing marginalization and little can be done to salvage its decline in the medium to long term. Such a situation has been evident for several years. Approximately a decade ago, ANBOUND’s researchers visited Taiwan to conduct close observation of the political ecology of the KMT and Taiwan in general. ANBOUND’s assessment at that time was that Taiwan was undergoing a significant transformation, and the future looked dim for the KMT (Kung Chan, 2014-2015). The decline of the KMT is a gradual process, and this trend may accelerate in the future.

Secondly, the DPP, having dominated the political scene in Taiwan for decades, has become a “mature party”. However, the once grassroots and impactful DPP is now facing severe governance challenges. Internal corruption and a lack of administrative capabilities are its primary weaknesses. The significant decrease in the election’s approval rating, reaching only 40%, indicates disappointment among the general public in the DPP’s governance. The DPP secured this election victory only in the context of the KMT’s decline and the failure of the KMT-TPP coalition. The future revival of the DPP remains uncertain. If existing issues persist and its administrative capabilities do not improve, the DPP may face further decline.

Thirdly, the rise of the TPP founded by Ko Wen-je is a significant event in Taiwan’s political arena. Established in 2019, the TPP, with Ko Wen-je ran the campaign for the island’s leadership for the first time, received 26.46% (3.69 million votes) of the support, demonstrating a rapidly rising influence and establishing itself as the “third force” in Taiwan’s political landscape. The emergence of the TPP represents new aspirations among the Taiwanese. Ko’s political views and vision have significant appeal to the younger generation and the educated class. It is noteworthy that over 80% of his supporters in this election are from the younger demographic. In recent years, the number of centrist voters who dislike both the DPP and the KMT camps has been increasing, and they have essentially turned to support Ko. ANBOUND’s founder Kung Chan emphasizes that Ko’s rise has truly established a groundbreaking political scene with a tripartite balance, marking a significant milestone. Notably, the TPP achieved a political turnaround in Hsinchu County, Hsinchu City, and Miaoli County, surpassing the KMT in these three areas and becoming the second-largest party after the DPP, showcasing a notable political achievement.

Chan points out that Ko is a knowledge-based individual with the characteristics of an internet celebrity. His background is that of a medical professional and lacked the organizational background of traditional political parties with no one laying the groundwork for him at the grassroots level. However, in the current trend, even for such an individual, once they become popular in cyberspace, there would be organized efforts in support. As mentioned by Chan in the past, if the politicians in this new era are unable to master social media, this would mean that they fail to politically engage with the people. There is reason to believe that the TPP will continue to develop in Taiwan’s political arena, evolving from the third force in Taiwan to a major one. Ko’s goal in this election was not to gain an immediate victory but to independently appear and lay the groundwork for the subsequent election four years later. Indeed, achieving commendable results in his first candidacy has laid the foundation for the 2028 election. Over the next four years, the TPP needs to transform from a “one-person party” (where public attention is focused on the personality of Ko) into a “collective party” (relying on party principles, political views, organizational capabilities, etc., to attract the public). Simultaneously, it needs to closely connect with the masses and strengthen its grassroots at the social level.

Fourthly, the forces in Taiwan’s political arena opposing reunification will overall strengthen in the future. In reality, the three major parties, DPP, KMT, and TPP, are fundamentally against reunification, albeit with different degrees and approaches. While this is more evident in DPP’s case, the other two parties also harbor sentiments in this aspect. KMT’s candidate Hou has expressed on multiple occasions that his views differ from KMT’s previous leader Ma Ying-jeou and that the current cross-strait situation is different from that during Ma’s tenure. He also stated that he has “never had unrealistic thoughts about mainland China”, clarifying that “the unification issue will not be touched upon during my tenure”. In the future, even if the KMT exists as a third party, it will not be the same as the past KMT but rather a sort of hybrid with certain aspects similar to that of DPP. When Ko visited Japan in June 2023, he outlined two bottom lines: (1) The people of the island can decide their political system and way of life, and (2) “Taiwanese autonomy” is the bottom line of his cross-strait policy and negotiations with the mainland. From mainland China’s perspective, the TPP carries certain elements of the DPP as well. Thus, the attitudes of the three parties toward cross-strait relations are very clear. Therefore, achieving reunification through party negotiations might not be the desire and policy choice of Taiwan’s major parties, and mainland China may need to abandon this idea.

Fifthly, the future relations between Taiwan and the mainland will still be decisively influenced by U.S.-China relations. Lai’s political stance is that of a staunch advocate for “Taiwan independence”. After he comes to power, both mainland China and the United States will become more vigilant about the risks in the Taiwan Strait, fearing that his strong push for independence will escalate the risks in the region and trigger a crisis. Mainland China will closely monitor how far Lai might go, preventing the situation from deteriorating irreversibly. Against this backdrop, it cannot be ruled out that both China and the U.S. might jointly manage the risks of the Taiwan Strait in a limited way to maintain the status quo in the region. Maintaining the current state of cross-strait relations remains the most in line with U.S. interests; for China, accepting the status quo, where Taiwan does not lean toward independence and does not immediately trigger the risk of a Taiwan Strait war, should also be acceptable. However, this situation of “China-U.S. joint risk management” in the Taiwan Strait is relatively fragile, and with changes in the relations between the two nations and the results of U.S. elections, the fragile balance in the Taiwan Strait relations may still be disrupted, causing them to teeter on the edge of risk. Generally speaking, if the establishment camp headed by Joe Biden wins the election, the likelihood of maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is somewhat higher. Conversely, if the non-establishment camp of Donald Trump comes to power, the possibility of upsetting the balance will increase. However, whether Trump, with his business background, is willing to lead the U.S. into war remains uncertain.

Finally, will the situation in the Taiwan Strait trigger a war in the next few years due to deteriorating relations? From the perspective of ANBOUND’s researchers, this seems unlikely based on the current situation. From a third-party perspective, if a war does break out in the Taiwan Strait, it may not necessarily be a controllable limited one and instead, there is a high possibility of war risk spreading to other places, involving not only China and the U.S. but also Japan, the Philippines, and others in military conflict. As China has long declared that the Taiwan issue is a core interest and a domestic matter, it is considered a “red line” for China. After U.S. representative Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on August 2, 2022, mainland China demonstrated its military encirclement capabilities around the island. With this in mind, different parties would seriously consider the consequences and enormous costs of crossing China’s bottom line. In this context, all parties are likely to consider the deterioration of the situation in the Taiwan Strait based on rationality.

Final analysis conclusion:

Following the Democratic Progressive Party securing another term in the Taiwan region’s recent election, a reshaped political landscape and heightened complexity in the Taiwan Strait are anticipated. This outcome has likely triggered strategic adjustments within various parties, potentially leading to further intricacies, making it more challenging to peacefully resolve cross-strait issues. Based on the current balance of interests and risks, it cannot be ruled out that there may be a possibility of “limited joint risk management” in the Taiwan Strait between China and the United States to prevent a significant deterioration of risks in the area.

Kung Chan and He Jun are researchers at ANBOUND


Anbound Consulting (Anbound) is an independent Think Tank with the headquarter based in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound specializes in public policy research, and enjoys a professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions and risk analysis. Anbound's research findings are widely recognized and create a deep interest within public media, academics and experts who are also providing consulting service to the State Council of China.

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