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HomeBusinessTaiwan election result good news for the west, not so much for China

Taiwan election result good news for the west, not so much for China

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Bob Mackin 

Taiwan’s two biggest political parties won some and lost some in the Jan. 13 election, but a Department of Asian Studies professor from the University of B.C. said the biggest loser was not on the ballot.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) kept the presidency, as vice-president Lai Ching-te garnered 40 percent of the popular vote to succeed two-term president Tsai Ing-wen. But Lai’s party lost its legislature majority to the Kuomintang (KMT), which will have a 52-51 edge over the DPP in the 113-seat house. The eight members of the upstart Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and two independents hold the balance of power.

Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s new president. (Taiwan government)

“The one who will feel most upset will not be the KMT, will not be the ruling DPP party and it will not be the newly formed the TPP party, but it will be the Chinese Communist Party,” said Josephine Chiu-Duke.

China’s government, which has designs on annexing Taiwan, has always disliked the incumbent and its preference for independence, she said. 

When Lai formally becomes president in May, he will need to proceed with a “sense of humility, to try to listen to what other parties say and what other parties demand, because they represent the majority of the legislature.” 

Chiu-Duke said the nationalist KMT will need to act like a “reasonable, loyal opposition” and decide when to support or oppose a bill from the DPP. 

Canada and the U.S. recognize only the People’s Republic of China, but maintain informal ties with Taiwan. U.S. has promised to defend Taiwan if China attacks. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated victorious Lai by name in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“We also congratulate the Taiwan people for participating in free and fair elections and demonstrating the strength of their democratic system,” said Blinken’s post. 

By contrast, Canada’s foreign minister Melanie Joly did not post a statement. Global Affairs Canada, however, greeted the result with a message to generally congratulate the people of Taiwan, but did not name Lai himself.

“Guided by the pillars of democracy, human rights and peace, Canada looks forward to advance its people-to-people, science, trade and investment ties,” said the Global Affairs statement. 

“That shows that Canada, that those people who work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they understand the delicacy of the international community,” Chiu-Duke said. “They leave the United States as the leader in the liberal democracy community to do the proper thing.”

Middle power Canada’s strategy, in a time of friction with China, is to not make relations with China worse. “I think that’s reasonable,” Chiu-Duke said. 

Andre Laliberte, a political studies professor at the University of Ottawa, said Xi Jinping and the CCP need to take time and reflect on the result.

Xi Jinping in 2018 (Xinhua)

“It’s not the majority of the population that supported the pro-independence DPP, so they can take comfort from that,” Laliberte said. “On the other hand, they should read carefully and understand that, like the vast majority of the population, even those voters for the Kuomintang, they are not interested in the ‘one country, two systems’ idea that China was proposing to Taiwanese, because they have seen in Taiwan, that it’s not working for the population of Hong Kong.”

In the wake of the election, tiny South Pacific nation Nauru announced it was switching diplomatic ties to China, leaving Taiwan with 12 partners. Laliberte said that Canada’s economic and cultural office in Taipei has a bigger footprint than many Canadian embassies in other countries.

“What is more important is actually the level of substantive relations that many countries, including Canada, the United States, most EU countries, and Japan, are having with Taiwan,” he said. 

The election outcome means that there is continuity in progress between Canada and Taiwan, who signed an investment promotion accord before Christmas.

Laliberte said China is not in a position to act upon Xi’s threats to invade Taiwan because of turmoil in the People’s Liberation Army’s chain of command. 

“Despite the pronouncements that are sometimes very bellicose, I don’t think we should expect that,” he said.

That means Lai will be under pressure to focus on domestic issues and DPP has an opportunity to seek support from likeminded politicians in the TPP on issues such as energy and housing affordability.

“At worst, what can happen is that it will be difficult for the Lai administration to govern, but at the same time, not impossible.” 

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