The US has qualms about Taiwan’s presidential candidates, the New York-based Asia Society said in a report published last week, adding that the outcome of January’s election would determine the development of relations between Taiwan, China and the US.
The report by Simona Grano, a senior fellow on Taiwan at the institute’s Center for China Analysis, examined the involvement of the US and China in the election.
While US officials and policymakers have remained neutral in their statements, Washington has reservations about all four candidates, Grano wrote.
Many American observers believe that Vice President William Lai (賴清德), the Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, could “deviate from the moderate policy” of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), she said.
New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate, carries the weight of the party’s relations with the US, the report said, citing the example of import bans on meat from the US by the administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and its pursuit of closer ties with Beijing.
Taiwan People’s Party Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is a “wild card” who advocates for constructive and equally amicable relations with China and the US, Grano said.
The report did not elaborate on the US’ attitude toward Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), an independent candidate, saying only that he “aligns quite well with the KMT’s and the pan-blue camp[’s] ideological viewpoint and campaigning strategies.”
The election “could mark a turning point” for Taiwan as geopolitical tensions continue to increase and the candidates’ approaches to cross-strait issues are at the core of their campaigns, Grano said.
China is attempting to influence the outcome of the vote by shaping public opinion, including through diplomatic pressure, propaganda and gray-zone tactics, she said.
The influence of the US is manifested in its support for Taiwan’s democratic process and countering China’s influence, she said.
The involvement of the two global powers in the election “highlights the geopolitical complexities surrounding Taiwan’s status” and the ongoing power struggle between them, she added.
In the final two months leading up to the election, “many things may change,” the report said.
The outcome of the election would depend not only on issues and concerns of Taiwanese, but also on “how China acts during the run-up to the election,” it said.
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