Taiwan Election Result: Western Or Pro-China Victory – OpEd


Analysis of western media reporting on the outcome of Taiwan’s recent elections reveals the following

1. The leading western media provided its usual pro-Taiwanese independence anti-China spin with the headline news that William Lai had won an “unprecedented”, “historic”, “divergent from China” victory. 

According to CNN “Taiwan voters dismiss China warnings and hand ruling party a historic third consecutive presidential win”.

To ensure the report’s greater reach and acceptability, the story was credited to Chinese reporters, Eric Cheung, Wayne Chang and Nectar Gan, with Jerome Taylor being the token Anglo-Saxon name.

The BBC led with a headline article by its China reporter, Tessa Wong. 

“Taiwanese voters have chosen William Lai as their president in a historic election, cementing a path that is increasingly divergent from China.”

As with the CNN, the BBC has realised that its anti-China reporting carries more weight if accompanied by a Chinese name as its reporter

Nikkei Asia reported the news with the following headline:

“China-skeptic Lai vows to continue the policies of incumbent Tsai Ing-wen”

Credit for this Japanese media giant story was given to Lauly Li, Cheng Ting-Fang and Kenji Kawase.

2. What is obvious in the reports is the effort to play up the magnitude and  ‘greatness’ of Lai’s victory and simultaneously to call into doubt the possible reunification of Taiwan and China

3. Missing or marginalised in the reporting is a different but more important perspective of the election outcome. This critical perspective – kept out of sight of Western media readers – will be much more influential in Taiwan’s political development than the western media generated euphoria over Lai’s victory

  • US supported and pro-American candidate Lai won 40% of the 14 million votes cast in a poll that saw a turnout of 72%. This makes him a President elected by a minority of Taiwan’s populace with the majority of Taiwanese voting against him or abstaining. He can hardly be termed a popularly elected leader or one representing mainstream public opinion in Taiwan. Noteworthy but also missed out in the reporting is that Lai’s margin of victory is less than that of President Tsai in 2020. 
  • More importantly, the governing party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) despite the big advantage of incumbency, lost its majority in the 113-seat legislature. In fact DPP lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2016. This development carries greater significance and impact than acknowledged. The result is one which will spoil the sleep and provide nightmares to the US, its Pacific allies and the DPP 
  • Although the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) also failed to gain a majority, the election result means that the combination of what are seen as pro Beijing parties, KMT and Taiwan People’s Party, have the parliamentary number to block or stop any planned legislation of Lai and DPP. The 2 parties, even without crossover support from DPP parliamentarians, also have a potential majority to initiate and pass any parliamentary measure relating to the economy, foreign relations and China policy.

It is not surprising that in his victory speech, Lai said the result showed his party did not work hard enough, and vowed to “humbly review” the election. He also pledged to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and offered to pursue exchanges with China. 

In all, the election outcome clearly is less a setback and an embarrassment for Beijing as trumpeted by Western media than it is to the US and its allies which had expected a resounding victory for Lai and the incumbent party in power. 

Challenge for Taiwan and China

The challenge now for Taiwan and the few countries in the world that support it is just to maintain the status quo. The DPPs objective of an independent and sovereign Taiwan supported by the West has not only been rejected by the electorate. It has become more unrealistic and unattainable than ever before.

This fallout from the election explains why China’s response to Lai, the “trouble maker’s” win, has been muted.

Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, noted that the elections will not change the basic landscape and development trend of cross-Strait relations, will not alter the shared aspiration of compatriots across the Taiwan Strait to forge closer ties, and will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.

“Our stance on resolving the Taiwan question and realising national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock.” 

“We will adhere to the 1992 Consensus that embodies the one-China principle and firmly oppose the separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’ as well as foreign interference,” Chen said.

He also said the mainland will work with relevant political parties, groups and people from various sectors in Taiwan to boost cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation, enhance cross-Strait integrated development, jointly promote Chinese culture, and advance the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations as well as the cause of national reunification.

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

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