Taiwan’ political democracy could have served as a stimulus for China’s political reform. Instead, its own future is now in jeopardy.
On November 29, 2014, local elections were held in Taiwan’s municipalities, cities, counties, and their respective councils. The Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or “KMT” for short) suffered a huge defeat. This surprised most political observors – including the winner, KMT’s main opposition, The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Before this election, KMT held 14 of 22 municipalities, cities, and counties. After the election, KMT is left with 6, versus DPP’s 13. Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, was lost to a pro-DPP independent.
Prior to this election, few predicted victory by KMT; fewer still predicted such a humiliating defeat. Overnight, the prospect for DPP to win the 2016 presidential election was significantly bolstered. This raises the risk of a period of cooling-off, if not direct confrontation, in the coming years between Taiwan and China.
KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been bitter rivals during much of the previous century. Ironically, in recent years the two political parties have gradually forged an uneasy detente based on an agreement reached in 1992. Under this agreement, both the CCP and the KMT recognize the existence of two separate political entities, and agree that there is but only “one China,” of which both Taiwan and the mainland are a part. Since 2006, direct flights have led to ensuing blossoming of trade and commerce, education and culture exchange, direct marine transport, communication, and tourism. Tension across the Taiwan Strait has been on the decline, until now.
Unlike KMT, since its founding in 1986, DPP has been advocating an independent Taiwan. Its Charter states that a de jure independent country, the Republic of Taiwan, is DPP’s ultimate objective, and that the political future of Taiwan lies solely in the hands of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens. Needless to say, China disagrees. To counter, China National People’s Congress passed its Anti-Sesession Law in 2005, which made clear that any attempt by Taiwan towards independence, such as an island-wide referendum, will be met with (preventive) force.
Few doubt China’s intention, and determination. Still, some factions hang on to the illusion that either the USA, and/or Japan, will come to Taiwan’s aid if China launched an attack. Some are prepared to march on to martyrdom – or so they claim – putting the lives and livelihood of their fellow citizens in Taiwan at risk.
Will cross-strait exchange cool off if DPP won the 2016 presidential election? Will bilateral trade decline and severely damage Taiwan’s economy? Will extreme factions take risky measures that would provoke China into action? How would China react if DPP were to win the presidential election in 2016? Will DPP modify or remove reference to Taiwan independence in its Charter? These are some of the questions on the minds of many who care about the future of Taiwan.