A power shift in Taiwan“Though it’s sad, let’s not give up! We will come back again!” exclaimed Tsai Ing-wen, then-presidential candidate of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), shortly after the opposition’s defeat in the election four years ago. Keeping her promise, Tsai won a landslide victory in Saturday’s election and became the first female leader of the country.
Her nickname, “A daughter of Taiwan,” reflects her pride as a woman and manages to underscore her identity as a fighter for independence for the Republic of China. Therefore, we take special note of the results of this Taiwanese election.
The election is not simply about domestic issues in Taiwan. It most certainly will affect cross-strait and U.S.-China relations given the sensitivity of the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Tsai Ing-wen’s victory largely can be attributed to Taiwan’s economic slowdown and internal divisions in the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT). But the Taiwanese people’s deepening wariness about eight years of relentless pro-China policies under President Ma Ying-jeou also played a part in his defeat. For instance, Ma’s push to move Taiwanese companies to China led to the hallowing out of Taiwan’s industries and a serious brain drain. Many analysts criticize that Taiwan’s economy increasingly depends on China, yet only a few are benefiting from it.
President-elect Tsai promised to pursue policies to maintain a status quo with regards to cross-strait ties; she will not push Taiwan’s independence as former president Chen Shui-bian did nor get too close to China as Ma Ying-jeou did. Beijing expressed concerns about Tsai’s victory by issuing a statement opposing a “divisive act of seeking Taiwan’s independence.” Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown the desire to “find a breakthrough” after saying he doesn’t want to bequeath thorny cross-strait relations to the next generation.
Bilateral ties are not expected to take a smooth path. As seen in a recent case involving a Taiwanese girl in a famous K-pop group waving Taiwan’s national flag in an online video clip, such an act can arouse vehement emotions between China and Taiwa and lead to unwanted ramifications for us.
Also, if a hawkish candidate is elected in the upcoming U.S. presidential race, cross-strait tension will escalate even higher. Sino-U.S. friction, a destabilizer for the Korean Peninsula, could add to instability in Northeast Asia, as the cross-strait relations are closely linked to inter-Korean matters. It is time for our government to polish our diplomatic and security strategies after the power shift in Taiwan.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30