A few months ago, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was facing a challenge from within her party by former premier William Lai (賴清德), and was seen as trailing potential KMT candidate Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) or independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) in her re-election bid. But now, with six months left before balloting, things look different.
Han Kuo-yu won July 15th’s KMT primary, so will represent the party in January’s presidential elections. It is still unclear whether Terry Gou (郭台銘) or anyone else will mount an independent candidacy. Tsai has won her primary, sending Mr. Lai packing, and polls favorably against all her potential pan-blue rivals. All we need now is for James Soong (宋楚瑜) to give his remote chances another shot.
It seems to me Beijing is doing its best to get Madame Tsai re-elected. This despite leaders there having no firsthand experience with truly democratic contests, since their preferred model is one-candidate contests with docile turnout by apathetic voters who know better than to stay home.
The significant international backdrop to all of this has been the messy spectacle in Hong Kong, where — presumably with strong mainland encouragement — Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) introduced the controversial plan to authorize extradition of suspects charged under PRC law from the former British colony to face criminal charges in the People’s Republic.
What Madame Lam or her Beijing masters didn’t bargain on was the massive protests that rapidly followed. Crowds of up to 2 million citizens of the territory turned out in a series of protests that startled Ms. Lam and outraged denizens of Zhongnanhai up north. These mass protests have continued, though some of their luster was tarnished when a small group of activists stormed the Legislative Council offices on July first and caused some damage during their brief occupation. Friends of democracy can lament these excesses, without ignoring the passions that fueled them.
What is at stake in Hong Kong is the viability of Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) vaunted pledge to permit a great deal of autonomy for 50 years following the 1997 British handover of the former colony to Beijing. During negotiations in the early 1980s with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Deng famously promised that Hong Kong could continue to enjoy this autonomous status at least until 2047. Deng also extended this vague concept to Taiwan, though it has never generated any significant support there. The argument across the Taiwan Strait was that Taiwan already enjoyed all the attributes of sovereignty, and could in no way be compared with the colonial territory of Hong Kong.
Over time, the mainland drifted away from touting “one country, two systems” to the 23 million citizens of Taiwan, stressing instead the more vacuous “1992 Consensus” that KMT politician Su Chi (蘇起) eventually confessed he had made up out of thin air. During President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) tenure in office, this became the basis for cross-strait dialogue, culminating in the meeting between Ma and Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015. The DPP regained power in 2016, and President Tsai evinced no interest in embracing this nebulous formula, which has resulted in a freeze in formal contacts between the two sides ever since.
Enter the Hong Kong protesters of 2019, who have reminded the world that most of the 7 million residents of that metropolis value the freedoms they already enjoy, and want a greater say in their own governance, as promised by Deng and his successors over the past several decades.
Meanwhile the US has continued its strong support for Taiwan, approving a recent arms package of US$2.2 billion dollars in sales of Abrams tanks and Stinger missiles, which Congress is certain to support. There is also discussion of a major new sale of F-16V fighter planes to the island, to enhance its ageing fleet of older F-16s.
In sum, US-Taiwan relations continue to flourish, despite their unofficial nature, and China’s ham-handed tactics in Hong Kong and across the Taiwan Strait have only served to strengthen these ties. Six months is still a long time, but at present President Tsai looks likely to gain a second term in next January’s elections. If she does prevail, it will be in no small part thanks to Beijing’s clumsy efforts to belittle the island state and its democratically elected leader. No surprise that authoritarian China doesn’t understand the nuances of democratic systems.
That is the greatest tragedy in this tale, as the 1.4 billion people on the mainland continue to have no real voice in their own governance.
Ambassador Stephen M. Young (ret.) lived in Kaohsiung as a boy over 50 years ago, and served in AIT four times: as a young consular officer (1981-’82), as a language student (1989-’90), as Deputy Director (1998-2001) and as Director (2006-’9). He visits often and writes regularly about Taiwan matters. Young was also US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Consul General to Hong Kong during his 33-year career as a foreign service officer. He has a BA from Wesleyan University and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
French firm DCI-DESCO in April won a bid to upgrade Taiwan’s Lafayette frigates, which has strained ties between China and France. In 1991, France sold Taiwan six Lafayette frigates and in 1992 sold it 60 Mirage 2000 fighter jets. To prevent arms sales between the nations, China negotiated an agreement with France and in 1994 in a joint statement, France promised that there would be no future arms sales to Taiwan. From China’s point of view, the DCI-DESCO deal constitutes a breach of the agreement, but the French stance is that it is not selling Taiwan new weapons, but instead providing a
Chung Yuan ChristiaN University is clearly in bed with the People’s Republic of China. This can be the only explanation why the school’s authorities have done their utmost to shield a student, who lodged a complaint against an associate professor, and then used thuggish tactics to compel the teacher to issue two separate apologies to China. The original complaint, filed by an unnamed Chinese student, was for remarks by associate professor Chao Ming-wei (招名威) during a class on the origin of COVID-19. A second complaint was filed by the same student after Chao, during an apology, stated that he was a
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in her inaugural address on May 20 firmly said: “We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo.” The Chinese government was not too happy, and later that day, an opinion piece on the Web site of China’s state broadcaster China Central Television said: “While Tsai’s first inaugural address four years ago was read by Beijing as an ‘unfinished answer sheet,’ the one she presented this time was even more below-par.” Speaking to the China Review News Agency, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies vice president
During my twenty-two years in the US Senate, I became a student of Taiwan and its history. I was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy, and have made at least 25 trips to Taiwan and have been invited as an observer to two of the nation’s presidential elections. Taiwan’s continuous economic miracle has seen the nation transition from a mixed agricultural-industrial society at the end of Japan’s 50 years of jurisdiction to today’s economic powerhouse, unmatched by most nations of the world. Just as outstanding has been Taiwan’s decades of resistance and