Taiwan's Election May Put China to the Test

Citizens will head to the polls Saturday to elect a new president, legislature
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 12, 2024 7:33 AM CST
Taiwan Preps for a Big Election
Staff prepare materials for a polling booth in New Taipei, Taiwan, on Friday, ahead of the presidential election on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)

Taiwan is preparing to elect a president and legislature Saturday in what many see as a test of control with China, which claims the self-governing island republic as its own territory to be unified with force if necessary. The presidential race is tight, and both China and Taiwan's key ally, the US, are weighing in on political and economic issues they hope will sway voters. The election pits Chinese Vice President Lai Ching-te, representing the Democratic Progressive Party, against Hou Yu-ih of the main opposition Nationalist Party, as well as former mayor of the capital of Taipei, Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People's Party, per the AP. The US strongly backs Taiwan against China's military threats, and the Biden administration plans to send an unofficial delegation comprised of former senior officials to the island shortly after the polls.

That move could upset efforts to repair ties between Beijing and Washington that splintered in recent years over trade, COVID-19, Washington's support for Taiwan, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which China has refused to condemn at the United Nations. Along with the tensions with China, much in the Taiwan election hinges on domestic issues, particularly over an economy that was estimated to have grown by only 1.4% last year. That partly reflects inevitable cycles in demand for computer chips and other exports from the high-tech, heavily trade-dependent manufacturing base, and a slowing of the Chinese economy. But longer-term challenges, such as housing affordability, a yawning gap between the rich and poor, and unemployment, are especially prominent. Candidates will make their final appeals Friday, with campaigning to end at midnight.

The candidate with the most votes wins, with no runoff. Lai is considered the frontrunner, but Hou trails closely. While the Nationalists formally support unification with China, they want to do so on their own terms, a somewhat abstract concept given the Communist Party's demand for total power, but which some consider a useful workaround to avoid outright conflict. Beijing has labeled Lai a "Taiwan independence element," which he hasn't repudiated. Lai, however, has pledged to continue current President Tsai Ing-wen's policy that Taiwan is already independent and needs to make no declaration of independence that could spark a military attack from China. Running third in most surveys, the TPP's Ko said during a Friday presser that he would aim to strike a balance between Taiwan and the US that wouldn't upset relations with China. More here. (More Taiwan stories.)

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