Upcoming Elections In Taiwan: A “choice between war and peace”?

The world is looking closely at the island of Formosa, as the January 13th presidential and parliamentary elections come closer. On January 7th, as tension keeps mounting, China has announced sanctions against 5 US arms manufacturers over weapons sales to Taiwan. “Taiwan’s January election will set the tone for global geopolitics in 2024”, as reported in The Guardian. China itself claims the coming elections will be a “choice between war and peace”.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “the US arms sales to China’s Taiwan region… seriously harm China’s sovereignty and security interests”, following the US approval of a 300-million-dollar military aid package for Taiwan. Meanwhile, Taiwan reports regular sightings of Chinese warplanes and balloons around the island recently, and has warned Beijing no to meddle in the outcome of the election, as the Guardian reports. “Because of Taiwan’s contested status and the uncertainty that that brings not just to the region, but the world as well, everyone is really invested in who’s going to be the one steering the ship, so to speak, because that will have a lot of implications for not just security, but also risk and economic potential,” said Lev Nachman, an expert in Taiwanese politics and an assistant professor at Taipei’s National Chengchi University, as reported by Al Jazeera.

In the upcoming elections, voters will face a choice between three different presidents and three different visions of the future of their island. Presidential candidate Ko Wen-je is worthy of attention, coming from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a party that has proved surprisingly popular with younger voters who dislike the Democratic People’s Party, which they see as the “establishment” party and view the Kuomintang leadership as outdated. Overall, according to Al Jazeera, it seems that while the Democratic People’s Party has held a slight majority over the past eight years, there are expectations that it could lose it to a possible KMT-TPP coalition.

In a New Year’s message, Zhang Zhijun, the head of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, urged the people of Taiwan to make the “correct choice” on January 13th. This means that, for instance, Beijing regards the DPP as political “separatists” and told voters that a vote for the party is akin to a vote for “war” in the Taiwan Strait. However, China analyst Bill Bishop recently said that their victory is unlikely to provoke an immediate military response from China: rather, one response could be the suspension of the 2010 China-Taiwan trade agreement. Some analysts would also expect to see an increase in Chinese military drills around the island.

Overall, what makes tensions between Taiwan and China even worse is that the US is committed to support Taipei “in the event of a Chinese invasion…”, although the nature and extent of this support remains unclear – a policy known as “strategic ambiguity”. President Biden’s declarations in May 2022 were far less ambiguous when he replied in the affirmative when asked whether the US would defend Taiwan militarily. Soon after, the White House quickly clarified that the US position on Taiwan had not changed and reiterated its commitment to the “One-China” policy. Nevertheless, the nature  of Taiwan-US relations will remain unclear until presidential elections in the US take place in November. All this makes Taiwan one of the biggest game changers in US-China relations.

In conclusion, Taiwan is being closely watched in Beijing and Washington. It is not clear what the results of the elections will be, but it will surely determine the future of Formosa’s relations with an increasingly assertive China, as well as the short-term future of an already quite strained US-China relationship.