The public in Taiwan have voted in local elections that have witnessed a major defeat for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Ultimately, the opposition Kuomintang came out of the elections with control of 15 cities while the DPP was left with only six. This is significant because each of the two main parties have increasingly different ideas concerning relations with the rest of China.
The DPP is effectively a party advocating for the full separation of Taiwan from the rest of the country and thus has been called a “pro-independence party”. By contrast, the Kuomintang which founded the current regime in Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War ended in a victory for Mao’s Communists, has amended its once unshakeable pro-“Republic of China” One China Policy and is now open to increased connectivity with the rest of the country through various commercial and other pragmatic links. To put it simply, while the DPP stresses a unilaterally hostile relationship with Beijing the modern Kuomintang tends to stress one built on various levels of compromise.
While the notion of compromise takes the world very far from the uncompromising origins of the Kuomintang, this is in fact the reality today where the DPP has become so extreme that the Kuomintang have gradually adopted a more moderate set of principles in response. Therefore, while some commentators have called the election a “victory for Beijing”, this is a highly inaccurate statement. The Kuomintang are still very much a Taipei-centred party, but one whose business minded constituents reject the provocative policies of the DPP.
As a result of the elections, Tsai Ing-wen has resigned her leadership of the DPP which in and of itself is good news for peace minded people as Tsai’s staunchly anti-Beijing policies frequently played into the hands of foreign forces seeking to stir cross-Straits hostilities.
Overall, the election may well have had foreign as well as domestic elements which led to the result of a Kuomintang victory. As more and more nations which previously had relations with Taipei now instead have relations with Beijing, the Taiwan establishment is becoming ever more isolated in the wider world. Even countries in the proverbial backyard of the United States such as El Salvador have recently decided to recognise Beijing as the capital of the one China. This combined with the increasingly anti-Beijing stance of the Trump administration means that not only is diplomatic isolation a new reality for Taipei, but the prospect of civil war looms larger than in previous generations due to the fact that American policy makers are behaving as though they salivate over the prospect of violence in the region.
In this sense, a vote for the Kuomintang this year represented a collective statement that “enough is enough”. While the American far-right continues to openly agitate for war with China, Chinese themselves on both sides of the Straits realise that any non-harmonious actions among the Chinese people will be seen by foreign aggressors as a signal to commence with further provocations.
Shouldn’t an important U.S. foreign policy goal of the next couple of decades be regime change in China? https://t.co/TpFODNTwQZ
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) November 23, 2018
Thus, while it was comparatively easy for some in Taiwan to support the DPP in previous years when the idea of regional warfare seemed remote, today the issue is all too real thanks to a sharp turn to the far right in Washington. As a result, voters decided to make a choice that signals a rejection of hostility while also signalling a wish for cross-Straits relations to improve as they were at the beginning of the 21st century.