The Battle for Taiwan's Soul: The 2016 Presidential Election

May 3, 2015 Topic: Politics Region: Asia Tags: ChinaTaiwanElections

The Battle for Taiwan's Soul: The 2016 Presidential Election

In the past, the CCP hasn't played nicely with democratically elected DPP leaders. What happens if Tsai Ing-wen wins? 

Although in recent years, DPP politicians have visited China and there have been some hints that China could find a way to work with a hypothetical DPP administration, these noises have come mainly from academics and think tanks that tend to be more open-minded. Ultimately, for all Tsai’s finesse of the issue, the DPP rejects the “one China” principle that Beijing insists is its bottom line. With her pledge to maintain the status quo, Tsai has positioned herself in the moderate middle of Taiwanese public opinion. But Tsai’s status quo refers to Taiwan’s functional autonomy and existing separation from China, and Beijing (and some parts of the KMT) wants to change that, not maintain it. In many respects, China is stronger and more confident than it was fifteen years ago, when the DPP won the presidency for the first time.

And with Xi Jinping exercising that confidence more robustly in many areas of Chinese foreign policy, there is no reason to think the CCP will concede acceptance of the “one China” principle in order to work with the DPP. The most likely outcome is a repeat of the scenario that pertained during the Chen era—a “united front” where the KMT and CCP combined to squeeze the life out of the DPP presidency, and used a private body to circumvent a democratically elected president whose policies they didn’t like. In short, there is much for Chu and Xi to discuss, and none of it bodes well for Taiwan.

Jonathan Sullivan is Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham.

Image: Flickr/Matthew Fang