Taiwan’s Upcoming 2024 Presidential Election and the Biden-Xi Summit in San Francisco

November 11, 2023 Topic: Taiwan Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: TaiwanChinaXi JinpingJoe Biden

Taiwan’s Upcoming 2024 Presidential Election and the Biden-Xi Summit in San Francisco

The United States may have some reservations about the KMT and the other opposition parties in Taiwan since their more conciliatory positions on China may place Taiwan at odds, from a national security perspective, with the strategic interests of Washington and other like-minded Indo-Pacific allies and partners.

After several months of back-and-forth government visits and negotiations between top diplomatic and economic officials from Washington and Beijing, the second in-person leadership summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping is finally confirmed by the White House, which is expected to happen on November 15, 2023, in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. 

It would be the first time in over a year since Biden and Xi last met face-to-face at Bali, Indonesia at the 2022 G-20 forum. The meeting would include numerous issues to discuss for the two largest economies and military powers in the world to seek to recalibrate and stabilize their fallen relationship due to heightening tensions over cutting-edge technology, Taiwan, the South China Sea, human rights, the Russia-Ukraine war, North Korea, the spy balloon incident, fentanyl, Americans detained in China, and also the most recent Israel-Hamas war.

The PRC’s lackluster and enervated economic performance in recent years certainly offers a strong incentive for Xi Jinping to ease tensions with the United States, as the Chinese leader, the most powerful since Mao Zedong, aims to deepen engagement with American company executives to alleviate their skepticisms regarding the increasingly controlling and unfriendly climate for foreign businesses and investors in China.

Flashpoint Taiwan and Elections

Needlessly to say, Taiwan remains a major sore point of contention between Biden and Xi.

Recall the controversial Nancy Pelosi visit in August 2022 that plummeted their bilateral ties to the nadir, where Beijing accused America for encouraging Taiwan independence and hollowing out the “one China” policy. 

Therefore, the PRC effectively suspended military communications with Washington. The Biden administration justified its strong backing of the island democracy in light of the PRC’s escalatory coercive campaigns to pressure Taiwan. In June, when the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing, senior Chinese officials reportedly asked him whether Washington has “a vested interest in the outcome of the Taiwan election, scheduled for January, and whether the Americans see the DPP as a friend.” 

The Xi government has not concealed its strong antipathy for Taiwan’s incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, which they viewed as essentially pro-independence. The party’s presidential candidate, William Lai Ching-te, who is currently Taiwan’s vice president and also DPP’s chairman, once described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence.” Lai has pledged that, if elected, he would continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s measured status-quo cross-strait policy to maintain peace and stability. He has commanded so far a steady lead in polls for the four-candidate presidential race, where the opposition parties are split and unable to find common grounds.  

Beijing much prefers the Kuomintang (KMT), the largest opposition party, to win back the presidency given their candidate, Hou Yu-ih’s more accommodating stance on cross-strait relations and continues to stick to an elusive “one China” principle that is embodied in the party’s so-called “1992 consensus” platform. 

Blinken reiterated the administration’s position that the U.S. will be even-handed in the election and doesn’t support any meddling in the process. President Biden, who himself is facing an uphill presidential reelection campaign in the United States come November 2024, cannot afford to appear weak on Taiwan and other critical national security disagreements with the PRC.

The Republican China hawks in Congress already sent a letter to the Biden White House, demanding the administration to firm up on its approach with Xi and not to “advance aimless, zombie-like engagement” with China. Biden would clearly warn Xi against interference in Taiwan’s election and there will be consequences for doing so.  

The United States may have some reservations about the KMT and the other opposition parties in Taiwan since their more conciliatory positions on China may place Taiwan at odds, from a national security perspective, with the strategic interests of Washington and other like-minded Indo-Pacific allies and partners. In light of Taiwan’s vital role in the production of advanced semiconductors, the party or coalition of parties (assuming the opposition could align themselves together in the months prior to the January election) that sits and leads Taipei’s presidential palace would have a very significant impact on U.S.-China relations and certainly Washington’s attitude towards Taipei. 

About the Author 

Dean P. Chen, Ph.D., is a professor of Political Science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Image Credit: Shuterstock.