Until very recently, polling for next year’s election had placed the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), consistently in third place, behind Vice President William Lai (賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan People’s Party Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
His poor placing was partially blamed on a failure to communicate his policies or vision with clarity.
However, a new poll has Hou in second place, either in a three-horse race with Lai and Ko or a four-way race with recent entrant Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘).
In the new poll, Hou is at 21.5 percent, behind Lai at 29.2 percent with three candidates; or at 18.4 percent, behind Lai’s 29.4 percent with Gou in the mix.
Could it be that Hou’s messages are finally getting through?
Hou is currently on a trip to the US. During a visit to the Brookings Institution in Washington, the KMT candidate revealed his approach to cross-strait relations if he is elected president: his so-called “3Ds strategy” of “deterrence, dialogue and de-escalation.”
This is a solid, easily understood messaging, and it is certainly about time he delivered something voters can get their teeth into.
Unfortunately, when they do, they will find it wafer thin and stale, as expired as an imported egg.
Talking to Taiwanese reporters in Washington, Hou stayed firmly on script, repeating that he intended to secure peace and stability through increased dialogue, exchanges and opening channels of communication with Beijing, based on the principles of the Republic of China Constitution and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), rejecting Beijing’s “one country, two systems” at the same time as rejecting Taiwanese independence.
This is KMT orthodoxy. It is no different from the fare offered by former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a decade ago.
The problem for Hou is that, even if he manages to win the presidency, he would find that, in the words of Bob Dylan: “You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.”
At least four major dynamics have shifted since the heady days of Ma.
First, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is far more aggressive and assertive: Xi has linked annexation to “one country, two systems” and has refused to rule out an invasion.
Second, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has studiously avoided being provocative to China. Hou’s problem is that increased cross-strait tensions are not Taiwan’s doing, they are due to changes of the dynamic in the international situation brought about by the cumulative effect of Beijing’s aggressive posture, the COVID-19 pandemic, Xi’s cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the loss of trust in the CCP among major players within the international community, including the US, the EU, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.
These include studies conducted about the geopolitical implications of an annexation of Taiwan by China, even if it were not through an invasion, although the analysis of academics in many nations would be that a failure of the US to succeed in repelling an invasion would deliver a catastrophic blow to US global influence.
Third, the Taiwanese electorate has increasingly moved away from identification with China and what the KMT is offering — if Hou wants to turn the clock back a decade, he would find he is wearing distinctly dated attire.
Fourth, the US position on Taiwan has evolved significantly since Ma was in office.
Hou has learned the need to be clear. Now we need details, and a vision more suited to the times.
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