The victory of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential and vice-presidential candidates — William Lai (賴清德) and Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) — in last month’s presidential election echoed the determination of Taiwanese to assert their independent national identity. The election results also underscored the acceptance of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) policies and programs. Thus, with the return of the DPP to power for a third consecutive term, Lai is to have an opportunity to continue his predecessor’s efforts to build a new Taiwan.
While speeding up economic and developmental activities, creating more jobs as well as building affordable houses are to be major domestic priorities for Lai, empowering the nation militarily and improving ties with other countries, thereby creating a special place for Taiwan in Asia and beyond would be another top interest. If the international community’s reaction to the election results is an indication to assess Taiwan’s importance in world politics, it is heartening to observe that major global powers including the US, the EU, the UK, France, Germany, Japan and others have sent their congratulatory messages to president-elect Lai.
More to the point, the US Department of State held up the elections as a demonstration of the strength of Taiwan’s robust democratic system and electoral process. Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoko Kamikawa described Taiwan as “an extremely crucial partner and an important friend.”
Understandably, China felt extremely disturbed by the outcome of the Taiwan’s elections and consequent developments, since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) regime had left no stone unturned in trying to prevent the election of Lai. Thus, China not only asserted that the election did not change “the basic fact that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China,” it also criticized the other countries which sent congratulatory messages to Taiwan. Nauru’s announcement to sever ties with Taipei and establish diplomatic ties with Beijing further highlighted Xi’s efforts to isolate Taiwan.
However, the Xi regime’s attempt to corner Taiwan globally has completely failed. More to the point, while Taipei’s informal ties with other countries have become stronger in the past few years, Taiwan under the leadership of Lai would be an occasion to contribute to the democratization of world politics. This, in turn, would enable Taiwan to expose the Chinese Communist Party’s autocratic regime in China and its imperialist efforts in Tibet, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
While Taiwan’s determination to withstand security challenges emanating from China would also encourage other countries to not succumb to Beijing’s pressure in the South China Sea and elsewhere, another outcome of the election results is the continuity of the balance of power in favor of Taipei. Since Xi is facing multiple problems at the domestic and external fronts including economic slowdown, turbulent ties with the US and others, it is highly unlikely that Beijing would try to accelerate its assertive posturing against Taipei beyond a point at least in the near future.
On the economic front, Taiwan is to continue to take steps under the New Southbound Policy to bolster ties with Southeast and South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand. This in turn would help Taipei reduce its dependability on China. The flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) from Taiwan to New Southbound countries reached US$2.13 billion from January to June last year, while China received US$1.9 billion as FDI from Taiwan.
At the same time, with Hon Hai Technology Group, known internationally as Foxconn, and other Taiwanese companies moving out of China, India has emerged as a major destination. Last year, India’s share of Apple’s global output reached 19 percent. It was in this context that the conferring of the prestigious Padma Bhushan award to Foxconn CEO Young Liu (劉揚偉) by India has huge significance. It can also be read as India’s happiness with the DPP retaining executive power.
Certainly, Taiwan’s significance should not merely be seen through the geopolitical, strategic and geoeconomic lens. Since the nation is renowned for its groundbreaking lightweight solar panel technology, and it is the second-largest producer of photovoltaic cells in the world, the international community should enable the new government to contribute to addressing the issue of climate change and others.
While the Lai government would need to take the middle path to address the conflict with China, because of Taiwan’s trust in the democratic system and the lack of a majority in the Legislative Yuan, it is imperative for other countries, including major powers, to help the nation remain a strong and vibrant democracy. After all, the international community has to realize the best way to deal with China’s imperialist ambition is to integrate Taiwan with the rest of the world as an independent nation.
Thus, while it is a welcome development to observe the Taiwan election results being discussed across the continents, the time has come for other countries to take some concrete initiatives to elevate their ties with Taipei. In doing so, these countries should at least sign a free trade agreement with Taiwan. This would have far-reaching consequences for Taiwan’s economy as well as the world economy. They should also aim to engage Taipei at some political level. Taiwan has its de facto embassy in the capitals of these countries.
Moreover, the pro-independence party of Taiwan retaining the presidency should not be used as a bargaining chip by other countries against China. Instead, trust should be infused into the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese that the countries which truly respect democracy and human rights would come to protect them, if China attacked Taiwan. Now, it has to be seen whether peace prevails over war.
Sumit Kumar is assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Delhi and a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs visiting fellow at National Chengchi University.
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