Taiwan election: Geopolitics at the Crossroads of Domestic Calculations

Taiwan will have its election just less than a month away. The gearing up for the upcoming Presidential and legislative election is at its zenith.

Taiwan will have its election just less than a month away. The gearing up for the upcoming Presidential and legislative election is at its zenith. Due to the constitutional term barrier, President Tsai Ing-Wen will not be able to represent the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in this election, leading to a vacuum for the leadership position. Taiwan has had a semi-presidential democratic structure since 1997. The President of Taiwan is directly elected and the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers will be responsible to the legislature. Since October, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has sent more than 100 aircraft to the ‘air defence identification zone’ (ADIZ) of Taiwan. The ADIZ is a place, where countries sometimes unilaterally make a buffer zone for national security. The zone was created by the US in 1954 and monitored by PAVE Paws Radar with the help of US experts.

The presence of China’s aircraft in the ADIZ of ROC cannot be seen as a positive matter for now. While Russia-Ukraine conflicts combined with China’s growing assertiveness have heightened the barometer in the region, Xi’s commitment in 2013, to calling Taiwan a ‘Renegade Province’ also fuelled the assumption of Chinese PLA as an aggressor in the region. Further to go one step ahead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 2022 has amended its constitution, highlighting explicitly the need to ‘oppose and contain the growing mindset of Taiwan’s independence’. The recent adventure of the PLA in the ADIZ can be analysed through China’s intention of changing the status quo of Taiwan.

Different parties with different national interest

Once Hilary Clinton said- “Part of diplomacy is to open different definitions of self-interest”. The diplomatic equation in cross-strait is at the same verse currently. The political parties with a different perception of cross-strait relations have made this election even more important. The current vice president of the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, has been declared as a candidate for the Presidential post by DPP. Mr. Lai is a hardcore supporter of Ms.Tsai’s dictum of Taiwan’s independence. The Kuomintang Party (KMT) has nominated Hou Yu- ih as its candidate for the January election.

The third political axis in Taiwan, which is quite new in its emergence as a full-fledged political party, the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) has a fresh approach for the people of Taiwan. The TPP has its founder Ko Wen-Je as its candidate for the 2024 Presidential election. This newly emerged political party of Taiwan is more focused on domestic problems rather than relations with the PRC. The number suggests that KMT and DPP candidates will be fighting in the voting polls, while TPP can expect to end up holding the balance of power in the legislature. One more independent candidate first proposed his name, Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of the tech giant and major Apple products supplier Foxconn, but later on, he announced his withdrawal from this election.

People’s Choice for Geopolitical Options

The election is not going to have implications only on the domestic sphere of Taiwan for the upcoming few years, but it will shape the relations with the PRC and the cross-strait landscape in the upcoming decades. While PRC policy response and ground action throw a pertinent question of whether there is any intention of China to repeat Russia’s 2022, February action to reunify Taiwan, the domestic polls also will be a deciding factor for the continuing tussle between the two countries. On November 30, this year, in an interview with the New York Times, President Tsai stated that China is overwhelmed with its internal challenges, and the authorities will find that this is not the right time to invade Taiwan.

There is a clear difference between the ideologies of DPP and KMT regarding the relations with mainland China. While KMT stands for the 1992 consensus over the status of ROC, based on the dream of Chiang Kai-Shek, the fundamental theme of the DPP function is the gradual facilitation of Taiwan’s independence. The current proposed candidate of DPP, Mr. Lai has a clear vision that Taiwan needs to enhance its cooperation with like-minded countries to get its validation from the international community. According to the DPP’s version, there is no need for useless debate on whether Taiwan is independent or not. Taiwan has all the elements to be recognized as an independent country. Lien Sheng-Wen, the Vice-chair of KMT, in an interview with Nikkei Asia, has mentioned an ancient Chinese phrase, “A mantis trying to stop the chariot”, simply Taiwan should not overestimate its power. The two ongoing conflicts already put a question mark on the US’s capability to stop the conflict. In that scenario, some Taiwanese have the perception that whatever the US is doing, it is in its national interest not to save the Taiwan Strait.

China’s intervention in Taiwan’s election

Amid the current volatility and considering the importance of this poll decision, analysts have highlighted that China will utilize its network to manipulate the poll results. Beijing has a long tradition of information manipulation. As per the report published by Taiwan Global Institute, China’s financial aid and investment interfered previously in the mayor’s election in 2018. While it is well understood that the PRC is more likely to support the KMT, which also advocates peaceful reunification with mainland China, using the strong business network of the Taiwanese community that has operated in China for decades, Beijing can build a consensus in favour of reunification. Miao Po-Ya, an activist in Taiwan interestingly stated that ‘this election will be the test for Taiwan’s people of their will power to defend the democratic way of life’. The study of World United Formosans for Independence surveyed that 44% of the Taiwanese people want to maintain the status quo, meaning quite a supportive attitude toward KMT, while only 35.8% supported the status quo, but needs to work for independence, which is in line with DPP’s version.

The growing rate of disinformation can be a potent factor in influencing the poll results in Taiwan in advance. When the world is busy calculating China’s approach to Taiwan amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Beijing has constantly been running disinformation campaigns against the current Tsai government. According to Dr Sriparna Pathak, an Indian expert on Sino-Indian praxis, written in the article “China’s Aggression and Taiwan’s 2024 Elections- why they matter for India”, China now need not to attack with a military arsenal, but the warfare strategy of PLA under Xi government is beyond the military basis of attack on Taiwan. Beijing’s interference in Taiwan’s upcoming election should be understood based on psychological warfare, grounded by Indian IR scholar Chanakya during the time of Chandragupta Maurya.

India’s stake

Currently, only 13 countries in the world recognize Taiwan. India officially acknowledges the ‘One China’ policy, but the continuing border issue with China in Galwan Valley since 2020, has made the pillar of cooperation with ROC more effective. The recent Tsai government’s policy of welcoming the Indian workforce into the country is an excellent example of growing ties between the two.

Dr. Manoj Kumar Panigrahi, Professor of International relations and a scholar on cross-strait relations, in his monograph titled “Taiwan-China Conundrum: What can be India’s policy trajectory” argues that India’s ‘Act East policy’ and Taiwan’s ‘New Southbound Policy’ juxtaposed with each other well. This mutual policy matching can lead to a flourishing relationship, but there needs to be calculated considerations from the Indian side for having the hostile neighbour knocking on the door.

Against the backdrop of China’s assertion and growing geopolitical volatility, the upcoming election has become a focal point for the international community. In brief, DPP advocates for clarity in cross-strait continuing ambiguity, while KMT supports keeping this ambiguous relation with the PRC to benefit Taiwan. Taiwan, being the semiconductor hub, and located at a strategic location in Indo-Pacific, India needs to keep its eyes on future developments.

Sanchaly Bhattacharya
Sanchaly Bhattacharya
The author completed her graduation in Geography and Economics from WBSU and opted for the PG Diploma in International Affairs and Diplomacy from IIGL. Currently, the author is pursuing her two master's degrees- one is in Public Administration from NSOU (correspondence) and another is in Diplomacy, law and business at Jindal School of International Affairs of O.P. Jindal Global University. The author's research area is focused on a comparative analysis of China and the US’s foreign policy, China-Taiwan economic dependence, India’s maritime security and strategic concern in the Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific and its current volatility, and Japan’s potential investment in India’s SMEs.