While important to local voters—as many as eighteen million Taiwanese will be eligible to vote in November—the nationwide elections serve as a barometer, as they do elsewhere and did just recently in America. At no time in Taiwan’s democratic history, however, has Chinese interference been this prevalent, with possibly disastrous ramifications for the health of, and belief in, Taiwan’s democratic institutions. While Beijing seeks to undermine Taiwan’s central government by helping more amenable candidates win control of various municipalities across Taiwan or working directly with co-opted grassroots groups, its main goal is the 2020 elections. From this perspective, the November 24 elections are an opportunity for the PRC to hone its skills and to unleash the full panoply of political warfare tactics against its greatest opponent on the other side of the Taiwan Strait: President Tsai Ing-wen.
J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based senior fellow with the China Policy Institute/Taiwan Studies Program at the University of Nottingham, UK, associate researcher with the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, assistant coordinator for the Forum 2000’s China Working Group, and chief editor of Taiwan Sentinel.