Taiwan’s 2016 Presidential election and the conflict of recognition with China

Taiwan is one of the most active and turbulent democratic societies in the world. On January 16th, Taiwan will hold its presidential and congress election.

Conflict of interests

In Taiwan, the fundamental debate is Taiwan’s relationship with Mainland China. The People’s republic of China (PRC) insists that Taiwan is part of China, although it has been separated from the mainland due to historical reasons, it should reunite with its motherland.

During the past 8 years, President Ying-jeou Ma’s administration has sought to improve Taiwan’s relationship with China. We could see the present days as the most peaceful and friendly age since the civil war in 1949. President Ma is stepping down after two terms in office.

Many Taiwanese worry about Ma’s party, the Chinese Nationalist’s Party’s recognition of “one China” and their continuous effort to deepen Taiwan’s relationship with Beijing. Those people will likely be vote for the biggest opposition party, ── the Democratic Progressive Party, which holds contrary attitudes against Beijing. 

Why are the Taiwanese afraid of getting too close with China?

During President Ma’s 8-year in office, Taiwan signed more than 20 treaties with China, including the first direct flight, trade negotiation, improved cultural and academic exchange, and a couple of cooperate projects. Last year, more than 4 million mainland tourists visited Taiwan.

Although both sides are happy to see tension relieved, many Taiwanese citizens are worried that Ma’s administration makes Taiwan’s economy increasingly dependent on China. They worry that economic dependency increases political risks, which means Taiwan is losing its independence and democracy and is becoming unable to resist China’s push for reunion.

The most important domestic debate

Taiwan used to be an export-dependent economy; its cheap manufacture industry, once created economic miracle, and now Taiwan is trying to find a new orientation, this is one of the crucial issues in this election.

Taiwan faces growing pressure, including international market slowdown, completion from countries with similar industry structure such as South Korea, and the rise of new economies such as China.

In 2014, Taiwan’s economy grow by just 1%, and its nearly 4% unemployment rate is regarded as a high point, its income per capital is 2.2000 US dollars, a relatively low figure compared to other developed economies in Asia.

People’s wages also stagnates even though companies make profits; many believe that only business owners who have good relationships with Mainland China benefits from Taiwan’s economic development, while ordinary people do not share their gains.

Impact of Taiwan’s election on other countries

Taiwan’s election is not just a debate on Taiwan-China relationship. It has significant regional and global impacts.

Role model: even though Taiwan’s history of democratic election is not long——since 1996—— but Taiwan has become a role model of democracy for other Asian countries, Taiwan is also the only Chinese society which exercise universal election and direct democracy. Taiwan’s election is not only important for Chinese government, Chinese people are increasingly curious about Taiwan; with the same language and cultural foundation, Taiwan’s election may have direct and profound influence on the development of China’s democracy.

Taiwan-China relation: Taiwan is standing at a crossroad──the winner of the election is going to shape its relation with China. If Beijing suspects that the Democratic Progressive Party would win and confront Beijing, then trade, tourism and other exchange might become restricted. If the Chinese Nationalist Party wins the election, China and Taiwan will further explore economic cooperation, or make mutual trust and continuous peace possible, but it might also endanger Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Regional peace: if the Democratic Progressive Party wins the election and attempts to reinforce Taiwan’s independence or increase Taiwan’s separation from China, then tension might tighten again. Not only do the Taiwanese and neighboring countries feel anxious about this election, the United States, who made a legal promise to protect Taiwan’s self-defense is also under pressure. Even though war seems unlikely in the present age, China never signed a peace treaty with Taiwan and China increases its military spending every year. Regarding the upcoming election, Chinese government takes a tough stance against Taiwan’s independence. China sees Taiwan as a colony taken by Japan in 1895, and a separated region during the civil war in 1949, their goal is to eventually unify Taiwan as part of China.

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