What Might Tsai Ing-Wen’s Victory Mean for Taiwan and China


Hanyu Huang

The Taiwan general election of 2016 had delivered a resounding victory to Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-Wen received 56% of the popular vote, making her the undisputed leader of Taiwan for the next four years. The situation is similarly reflected in Taiwan’s legislature where the DPP captured 68 out of 113 seats, handing the DPP undisputed majority status for the first time in its history.[1] The results of the election has come as no surprise to Taiwan watchers, as the KMT had been sagging in the polls leading up to the election.

While the election may have been decided in favor of the DPP due to Taiwan’s faltering economy under the previous KMT administration,[2] the election results cannot be separated from Taiwan’s relationship with China. The KMT had championed a policy of economic integration with the mainland under its administration, and its critics have charged the KMT that not only has the policy been a failure in terms of improving Taiwan’s economy, but is threatening to draw Taiwan further into the PRC’s orbit leading to an eventual loss of de-facto independence. Taiwan’s election outcome, needless to say, is a verdict on the KMT years. It has concluded that Taiwan will likely not seek closer ties with the mainland, economic or otherwise, at least in the short term future.

Despite the overwhelming electoral victory, the DPP is apparently in no hurry to push through Taiwanese independence. Tsai Ing-wen has publicly announced that the DPP will preserve the status quo even though the party is now in a stronger position than when Chen Shui-bien was president. Furthermore, she declared dealing with the Taiwan Strait security issues requires cooperation between Taiwan and the Mainland and promised not to be provocative.[3] The overall tone is that of assurance to the PRC. It appears that unlike her DPP predecessor, Tsai is not prepared to take rash action immediately towards independence.

On the other hand, Tsai Ing-wen’s victory speech does hint towards the goal of eventual independence under a Taiwanese identity.  Tsai repeatedly referred to Taiwan as a state in her presidential victory speech, implying eventual Taiwan will abandon the “one China” policy. Tsai also made democracy and freedom themes of her election victory speech, and she “will not allow any Taiwanese to apologize due to others”,[4] which may be taken as a stab at the PRC. Finally, the DPP itself is a pro-independence party. So far, there has been no indication that the DPP is inclined to change the overall direction of the party now that they are in power.

On the other side of the strait, the PRC has officially adopted a stance of neutrality. According to the PRC’s official newspaper Renminribao, The PRC has accepted the defeat of the KMT, but warns of deteriorating relationship should the DPP refuse to engage in further negotiations. The PRC is especially concerned that Tsai had dodged addressing the 1992 Taiwan Consensus and the One China Question during the election.[5] The PRC’s insistence on the One China Policy can cause tensions with Taiwan in the future as the PRC might press Tsai to adopt a firm stance on the issue rather than remaining ambiguous and maintain the status quo. For Tsai, revealing a stance would mean inevitable alienation of at least some of her supporters early on into her administration, which does not bide well for her future.

Other than mainland anxiety over the ambiguity of DPP stance, another flashpoint is Taiwan’s officially non-existent foreign relationship. The mainland has already protested the arms sale in December as the US intervening in domestic Chinese affairs. The new DPP government has openly announced that not only will it try to seek better relations with the U.S., it has also publicly announced its decision to bring Taiwan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.[6] Considering the continuous disputes in the South China Sea and the negative Chinese response to the TPP, Taiwan’s decision to orbit closer to the U.S. will likely make the PRC nervous. American presence on Taiwan has long been one of the PRC’s pet peeves dating back to 1949. With Chinese increasingly believing that the U.S. is moving to contain the PRC with agreements such as the TPP that bind Pacific countries closer to the U.S., having Taipei gravitating closer to Washington is likely to set off alarms in Beijing. The PRC leadership will likely to demand some form of assurance from Taiwan to assure Beijing of its continued neutrality. Such a gesture will again, place the DPP in a difficult position.

 

Bibliography

 

“An Election Battle for the Identity of Taiwan.” BBC, 1 Jan 2016 2016.

Bing, Liu. “Wuzhaoxiezaihuafuyan shuomin jin dangyihuì tanjing shentui dongliang anguan xi.” China Times, 20 Jan 2016 2016.

“Tsai Ing-Wen Victory Speech.” 2016.

Xiangping, Liu. “Tai Wan Xuan Ju Dui Jin Hou Liang an Guang Xi De Yiang Xiang.” Renmingwang, 18 Jan 2016 2016.

Yu-Chen Tseng, Jean. “Economics Will Determine Taiwan Election.” East Asia Forum, 9 Jan 2016 2016.

 

[1] “An Election Battle for the Identity of Taiwan,” BBC, 1 Jan 2016 2016.

[2] Jean Yu-Chen Tseng, “Economics Will Determine Taiwan Election,” East Asia Forum, 9 Jan 2016 2016.

[3] “Tsai Ing-Wen Victory Speech,”  (2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Liu Xiangping, “Tai Wan Xuan Ju Dui Jin Hou Liang an Guang Xi De Yiang Xiang,” Renmingwang, 18 Jan 2016 2016.

[6] Liu Bing, “Wuzhaoxiezaihuafuyan shuomin jin dangyihuì tanjing shentui dongliang anguan xi,” China Times, 20 Jan 2016 2016.