Taiwan Ruling Party’s Stunning Loss – A Victory For China, A Defeat For The United States

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Nov 26 2018
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Taiwan-China relations flourished when the KMT (Kuomintang) ruled Taiwan from 2008 to 2016. Interestingly, the Kuomintang was the same ruling party in mainland China until 1949, when it lost the Chinese Civil War to the rival Communist Party. But under Taiwan’s then-president Ma Ying-Jeou, Taiwan enjoyed a friendly relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.


The relations between Taiwan and China started going sour in 2016, after the Democratic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gained control of both the Legislative Yuan and the Presidency. In the same year, Donald Trump unexpectedly and stunningly won the Presidential Election. President Tsai Ing-wen, the first woman to be elected to the office, has been critical of China ever since.


Ms Tsai, the first unmarried president of Taiwan, supports strong and stable relationships between Taiwan and the United States, and has not made any effort to hide her ambition to bring the republic closer to independence. Almost immediately after Trump’s victory in December 2016, Tsai held an unprecedented telephone call with President-elect Donald Trump.


It was the first time that the President of Taiwan spoke with a president or president-elect of the United States since 1979. However, Beijing isn’t impressed as Taipei and Washington explore a closer relationship since U.S. President Donald Trump officially inaugurated as POTUS and took office last year and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took power in 2016.


So, when Taiwan’s ruling party was handed a major defeat in local elections Saturday, China claims credit and celebrates it as Taiwanese rejection of President Tsai Ing-wen’s separatist policies. The US-friendly DPP, which held 13 of Taiwan’s 22 mayoral seats before the polls, hung on to just 6 while its China-friendly rival Kuomintang won a total of 15 – a humiliating defeat to the first woman president.


Heck, under Tsai Ing-wen’s leadership, the DPP has even lost its stronghold of Kaohsiung, the southern port city where it had held power for more than 20 years, during the nationwide local elections. The party also lost its traditional bastions of Yilan. The Nationalists KMT (Kuomintang) also defeated the DPP in the central city of Taichung, home to Taiwan’s light industry.

Taiwan Election 2018 - KMT Kuomintang Supporters

While it was laughable when President Trump accused China of trying to influence the U.S. midterm elections on November 6th, the same cannot be said about Taiwan. China is widely seen as having its hands influencing the local elections through economic pressure on the self-governing island, especially after Tsai Ing-wen took over the presidency, including by discouraging tourism.


The latest local election’s result is so bad that President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the Democratic Progressive Party to take responsibility. The elections for mayors and thousands of local posts were seen as a key test for Tsai’s 2-year-old administration, which has been under relentless attack from Beijing over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is a part of China.


It’s worth to note that Beijing was forced to suspend official exchanges with Taiwan in 2016 after Ms Tsai did not reaffirm the 1992 Consensus and accept the one-China principle after becoming Taiwan’s President. China has also barred Taiwan representatives from international gatherings, not to mention staging threatening military exercises.

China and Taiwan Flags

China claimed the results reflected a desire of Taiwanese for better relations with the mainland. The Nationalists, simply known as the KMT, had campaigned on their pro-business image and more accommodating line toward Beijing. The Kuomintang (KMT) now hopes the local election will pave the way for success in the 2020 presidential elections.


However, it’s also true that the election campaign focused largely on bread-and-butter and economic concerns. For example, KMT mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu who won DPP stronghold Kaohsiung had steered clear of cross-strait ties during the campaign. Still, the issues of economy and Taiwan-China relationship is closely intertwined.


It’s definitely no coincidence that the Kuomintang (KMT), who happens to be the preferred choice of Beijing, avoided talking about going it alone and stresses instead of economic ties with the mainland – eventually won the elections. Some analysts said they expect China to reach out to KMT politicians ahead of Taiwan’s next presidential vote in early 2020.

Taiwan Election 2018 - President Tsai Ing-wen Major Loss

But President Tsai Ing-wen wasn’t alone at the receiving end of a humiliating defeat. Trump administration will be laughed at by Beijing for the embarrassing loss of the Taiwanese government supported by the U.S. With the crazy Donald Trump strongly behind Taiwan, now may be the best time for Taiwanese to demand an official declaration of independence for the island.


Instead, the people of Taiwan have voted for a closer relationship, not confrontation, with China. Here’s the proof – not only have they kicked pro-independence DPP, the voters also rejected a proposal to change the name of its Olympic team to Taiwan from the current Chinese Taipei. Obviously, the economic issue is more important than independence.


Prior to the Saturday local elections, a series of decisions by Trump and actions by the U.S. Congress had already offended and frustrated China. In March, the U.S. president signed legislation encourages more senior-level US-Taiwan visits despite opposition from Beijing. In July, China urged the United States not to allow Taiwan President Tsai to transit its territory when she visits Belize and Paraguay.

President Tsai Ing-wen Visit to Los Angeles, United States

Beijing considers Taiwan as a province of “One China”, and was worried that if the United States allows the transit, it would send the wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces. Not only the U.S. granted President Tsai the “transit stops” in Houston and Los Angeles, she also met with three California lawmakers, who called on the U.S. to formally invite her to Washington.


Adding insult to the injury, Taiwanese journalists were permitted to follow Ms. Tsai and report from the sites of the events she attended. She even visited Taiwan’s de facto consulate in Los Angeles – another first – and she addressed American media at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles, accompanied by the US police escort.


And when the news exploded that the United States is ready to approve a US$330 million arms sale to neighbouring Taiwan, the Chinese goes ballistic. Already, Trump administration has agreed to sell missiles, torpedoes and an early warning system to Taiwan for US$1.4 billion back in June 2017. The States Department also requested to deploy a detachment of US Marines to Taiwan, but was rejected by the Pentagon.

China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen

The U.S. deliberately sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait, the first since July last year, in a move seen in Beijing as a show of support for Taipei by Washington. The deployment of USS Mustin and USS Benfold guided-missile destroyers were the first such American vessels to pass through the strait since the USS John McCain made the trip in July 2017.


Yet, despite the display of military superiority of the U.S., supposedly to protect Taiwan in any eventuality of a Chinese invasion, Taiwanese youth and business people see the benefits of the mainly roughly US$12 trillion economy of China. President Tsai Ing-wen has just 14 months to win back public support if she wants to avoid going down in history as the island’s first one-term President.


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