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Taiwan’s Election Results Humiliate Communist China’s Xi Jinping

The Democratic Progressive Party won decisively, affirming that most Taiwanese want to maintain Taiwan’s separation from communist China.

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The Taiwanese elected William Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as their next president, despite Beijing’s threat that voting for Lai would lead to war.

The campaign to succeed Taiwan’s incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, who will step down in May due to term limits, was a fierce three-way race, including Vice President Lai of the DPP, Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT), and Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Beijing accuses the DPP of “promoting” Taiwan’s independence, a red line Beijing would never tolerate. To coerce the Taiwanese to vote for its preferred KMT presidential candidate, Beijing had aggressively tried to interfere in Taiwan’s election, including claiming the choice between the DPP and the KMT would determine war and peace. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) applied additional pressure by showing off China’s military might before and on election day.

Leading up to the election, Lai and Hou were polling almost neck-and-neck. Probably out of a desire to help Hou’s campaign, Taiwan’s former President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT gave Germany’s Deutsche Welle an interview. Ma remarked that it’s futile for Taiwan to arm itself because “China is too big” to resist and the United States would never send its military to help defend Taiwan; a “reunification” with the mainland is acceptable because the Taiwanese should trust Xi and hope for his “benevolence.” Ma also refused to call Xi a dictator.

Ma’s defeatist remarks drew widespread criticism in Taiwan. Many said his words reflected what the KMT really planned for Taiwan and explained why Beijing preferred to see a KMT victory. All three presidential candidates, including the KMT’s Hou, condemned Ma, declared their support to ensure Taiwan’s military preparedness, and rejected blind faith in Xi. Ma’s interview might have inadvertently caused would-be KMT voters to switch their votes for the DPP. Voter turnout was high, about 70 percent. Taiwanese responded to Beijing’s intimidation and Ma’s cowardice by defiantly voting for Lai. He won decisively with more than 40 percent of the vote, and his opponents graciously conceded their defeat, demonstrating the maturity of Taiwan’s democratic system.

Implications

The DPP is the first political party to govern the island for three consecutive terms since Taiwan’s march to democracy in the 1990s. There are important implications for the DPP’s electoral victory.

First, it is a sign of approval of President Tsai’s governing. Under her leadership, the island has successfully managed its responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and won admiration and praise worldwide. Despite Beijing’s relentless efforts to bully Tsai and her government by imposing diplomaticeconomic, and military pressure, Tsai and Taiwan have won significant international support, including a visit from former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have not only increased U.S. weapon sales to Taiwan to help beef up the island’s self-defense but have done so publicly, unlike their predecessors, who tried to pretend such sales never happened.

By voting for Lai, voters showed they desire continuity of policy. Lai understood that well and vowed in his victory speech to “continue initiatives focusing on value-based diplomacy, cross-strait stability, defense self-sufficiency.” 

Second, the election result affirms that most Taiwanese want to maintain Taiwan’s separation from communist China. Young Taiwanese especially feel no allegiance to Beijing. They would rather identify as “Taiwanese,” not Chinese. Although no one wants war, the election result is a firm rejection of Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan must “reunify” with mainland China. Many Taiwanese are alarmed by Beijing’s political suppression in Hong Kong, and they refuse to give up their cherished democracy and freedom. 

Third, Lai’s victory is a humiliating defeat of communist China’s Xi. China’s past economic engagements didn’t win the hearts and minds of most Taiwanese. Its increased military intimidation has failed to intimidate Taiwan into submission. Fewer Taiwanese want to reunite with the mainland as each election cycle passes. If Xi wants Taiwan, he will have to take it forcefully.

Xi’s Reaction

How will Xi react to this humiliation? First came the denial. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office claimed the election outcome didn’t “reflect the mainstream public sentiment.” It also insisted that “Taiwan is part of China” and “the election results would not alter the course of cross-strait relations.”

Xi may not invade Taiwan immediately, as he faces severe domestic challenges, including a corrupt military. After sacking China’s minister of defense, Xi purged several top generals of the PLA on alleged corruption charges. Xi probably won’t launch an invasion until he’s confident that corruption hasn’t weakened the PLA’s fighting ability and loyalty to him.

But a humiliated Xi is more dangerous, and he will likely convey his displeasure by taking provocative actions. He may start a blockade around Taiwan, preventing commercial activities and military aid from reaching it. Taiwan won’t last long on its own under such a blockade.

President Joe Biden announced he would send an unofficial delegation to Taiwan after the island’s election. The U.S. House of Representatives passed several pro-Taiwan measures on Jan. 12, including one that “called on the U.S. government to forbid representatives of the Chinese government from participating in specified international financial organizations if it attempts to launch an attack on Taiwan or otherwise threaten its security.”

The U.S. Response

However, these welcoming gestures aren’t sufficient to deter Xi’s ambition and aggression. President Biden has not made a case to the American people about whether the United States will defend Taiwan. He publicly said multiple times he would send the U.S. military to Taiwan if China invaded the island. Yet, each time, his aides walked his comments back. The flip-flops have raised questions, including who is in charge of U.S. policy on Taiwan.

Meanwhile, many military experts are concerned that the U.S. is not ready to confront China militarily. The Biden administration’s ongoing support for Ukraine has depleted crucial weapons supplies. The U.S. defense industry is still struggling to ramp up production, and the Biden administration has done little to cut regulatory red tape to help manufacturers. Consequently, Taiwan faces a $14 billion backlog in weapons sales from the United States, “some of which are not slated for delivery until the end of the decade.”

To add insult to injury, the Biden administration asked Japan to export Patriot missiles made in Japan to the U.S. so the U.S. could send them to Ukraine. This is a strategically foolish move because if China attacks Taiwan, Japan will need those Patriot missiles for Taiwan and Japan’s own defense.

America’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has also shown that both the Biden administration’s national security team and U.S. military leaders are distracted and incompetent. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent failure to inform the White House about his intensive care stays further erodes any remaining confidence in our military leadership and President Biden’s competency as the commander-in-chief.

Taiwanese voters have shown the rest of the world that to preserve their freedom and way of life, they must have the courage and wisdom to choose the best leader to stand up to Beijing’s aggression. American voters also face a choice this November in our own presidential election. May we be as brave and wise as the Taiwanese and choose a leader best fit to lead America in overcoming serious domestic and international challenges.


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