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Taiwan’s Fate Hangs in the Balance as Election Approaches

POLITICSTaiwan's Fate Hangs in the Balance as Election Approaches

On Saturday, January 13, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in Taiwan, where Taiwanese voters will choose between the opposition Kuomintang party, the moderate Taiwan People’s Party, and the currently ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A victory for the latter would not bode well for China, which has been trying to influence the outcome – in recent months, there have been numerous instances of Chinese military exercises and airspace violations around Taiwan. “If the DPP won, I would expect a lot of noise from Beijing, harsh rhetoric, possibly even more military maneuvers, I wouldn’t even rule out some sort of blockade,” says political scientist Professor Bogdan Góralczyk. Although he views a direct invasion as less likely, he does not dismiss the possibility entirely.

Professor Góralczyk tells the Newseria Biznes agency that if the upcoming elections do not go Beijing’s way – that is, if Tsai Ing-wen’s successor from the Democratic Progressive Party, William Lai, wins – it is entirely possible that China will begin demonstrating its power immediately after the elections. However, if the Kuomintang opposition party wins – a less likely but still possible scenario considering poll results – there would likely be the start of some sort of dialogue between Taipei and Beijing, which would not please the Americans and the West.

The winner of the election could have major implications for the future of the island, which has been a point of conflict between the US and China for decades. The situation, especially in light of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s comments about the “inevitable unification of China” and the “choice between peace and war,” and the launch of a Chinese satellite on Tuesday, which caused an air raid alarm when it flew over Taiwan, is tense. The Chinese Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement expressing hope that the people of Taiwan would make the “right choice”. Meanwhile, a high-ranking US official announced on Thursday that signals have been issued to China to refrain from any interference in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential elections.

From Beijing’s perspective, Taiwan is a separatist province and an unfinished work of Mao Zedong’s revolution. The current leader, Xi Jinping, has made it a priority to complete the process, especially after the absorption of Tibet and Hong Kong. This ambition has been notably stated in his New Year’s message and earlier during his meeting with Joe Biden in San Francisco in the fall of last year.

Despite a lack of diplomatic relations, the US is one of Taiwan’s most important international partners and weapons suppliers, with China considering Taiwan a part of its territory according to its One-China policy. There are often concerns that China might want to militarily annex the island.

The tensions intensified when Donald Trump sparked a trade war with China in March 2018, completely changing his strategy towards China and initiating a period of strategic rivalry between the two powers.

“Some – and I am beginning to agree – are talking about Sino-American relations as a new Cold War or Cold War 2.0, with Taiwan as a key element” – says Professor Bogdan Góralczyk.

Taiwan’s position in the semiconductor market also plays a big role. “It is widely known that one company, TSMC, is the global monopoly when it comes to the most sensitive microprocessors,” says the expert.

Last week, XTB analysts pointed out that the Taiwanese company TSMC – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company – has a 58% market share (Samsung is second with 12.4%). TSMC supplies chips to companies such as Apple and Nvidia. Analysts thus stress that any military action in Taiwan would lead to a global tech crisis and even an economic collapse worldwide.

The expert emphasizes that the elections in Taiwan represent a collision of two worlds and two philosophies. From the Western perspective, the hard-fought Taiwanese democracy is trying to resist Chinese dictatorial rule.

“Taiwan is indeed a flourishing, efficient democracy, only a year older than the Polish one, since 1988. From Beijing’s perspective, this is a clash of war and peace, and the choice of the Democratic Progressive Party means war, war with Americans, the West. While the choice of Kuomintang means a dialogue, Chinese investments, greater prosperity, commitment” – says the political scientist.

In the presidential elections in Taiwan, three candidates are running. The first is William Lai from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) – a Harvard graduate and current Vice President of Taiwan, who presents pro-Western and more independent views, indicating that Taiwan needs to reduce its economic dependence on China. His main rival, Hou You-yi, from the Kuomintang party, argues that peace on the island will be guaranteed by the opposite scenario and a dialogue with China. The last candidate, Ko Wen-je, from the Taiwan People’s Party represents moderate views, placing himself between the first two candidates.

“Ko Wen-je of the Taiwanese People’s Party has varying results in polls: from 3% to 20%, which means that it is a fluctuating electorate. But it turns out that this electorate rather supports Kuomintang, that is, the current opposition, rather than the Democratic Progressive Party. How it will turn out, we will see. It should be clearly stated that so far in all the polls of the last two months, with a small margin, the current vice president, deputy of Mrs. Tsai Ing-wen, is winning. In Taiwan, even a very beautiful election spot has appeared in which the baton is peacefully passed from the president to her deputy” – says Professor Bogdan Góralczyk.

The final results of the elections in Taiwan should be known on the night from Saturday to Sunday, and the new president is to be sworn in on May 20 this year. It is difficult to predict what Beijing’s reaction will be if the DPP representative wins, but it could be harsh.

“I expect a lot of noise from Beijing, harsh rhetoric, perhaps even more military maneuvers, I wouldn’t even rule out some sort of blockade. Yet, at least in the near future, I do not foresee a direct invasion, aggression, attack, because it would be counterproductive. The Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 is still present in the collective memory of the Western world, and the ancient Chinese strategy advises: don’t hit a stronger opponent. And the United States is still militarily stronger according to all available data,” assesses the expert from the European Center at the University of Warsaw.

As he emphasizes, regardless of the election results, the issue of Taiwan will remain crucial in the global agenda.

“It can potentially also be dangerous for Poland, because for Americans, China has grown so much that it poses the biggest challenge in their history – economic, commercial, increasingly technological, cosmic, in the field of artificial intelligence. The Soviet Union was never such a challenge. This is a clash of the hegemon with the contender, the Thucydides trap, and it may unfortunately end in a kinetic conflict, hopefully not. I do not think that Beijing is currently aiming at this, but it absolutely cannot be excluded,” says Professor Bogdan Góralczyk.

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