Honor guards prepare for a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Photo: Twitter
Honor guards prepare for a flag-raising ceremony in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Photo: Twitter

As the 2020 presidential election campaign rages on, debates related to the status and future of Taiwan, and whether economics or sovereignty should be the top priority for the Blue and Green camps, are becoming more and more acute.

China’s hostility toward the Taiwan independence leanings of the DPP government is also escalating. The next presidential election in the Republic of China is scheduled to be held on January 11, 2020. Voters will either elect a new president or re-elect the incumbent. The process of presidential primary elections and nominations is likely to start within the next few months.

Too many entangled problems are awaiting the next president for him/her to turn the tide. Next year will be a crucial time for Taiwan; the new government must, in the shortest possible time, restart cross-Taiwan Strait consultations, smoothing out the tensions created by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) planes circling Taiwan. Only by doing so can they create favorable conditions for foreign investment and the return of Taiwan businesses to China. The new government must stop Taiwan’s bleeding from an ever-increasing isolated international situation and start returning to the functional organizations of the United Nations.

Taiwan must accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the FfRegional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), so the island does not become an abandoned chess piece. More importantly, the new government must shake off the bad habit of seeking official positions and personal benefits that permeated both the Blue and Green parties for a long time, and political figures that just muddle through must step down.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen took power three years ago, she has avoided cross-strait policy based on a cross-strait political foundation, so there would be no official interactions across the strait, while she has chosen to embrace the US strategic option one-sidedly, even letting Taiwan become a peripheral actor in a China-US confrontation. The tense situation across the strait will inevitably become worse. In order to consolidate her power base, President Tsai began to manipulate cross-strait issues, incessantly escalating the atmospherics of cross-strait hostilities. The Tsai government restricted travel to the mainland and upped the ante by blocking mainlanders from engaging in cross-strait exchanges, casting a shadow over people-to-people exchanges across the strait.

Amid the conflict between the welfare of the people of Taiwan and that of the DPP, Tsai has chosen the interests of the DPP; amid the confrontation between the interests of the Green grassroots and those of the DPP factions, she has chosen to cozy up with the factions and pork barrel spoils; in the 2020 electoral campaign, Tsai will inevitably continue to side with the elites of the DPP factions, and not with the pan-Blue swing voters, or even the grassroots masses of the pan-Green. This presidential election will not become a battle between pro-reunification and pro-Taiwan independence on which Tsai has pinned her hopes; instead, it will be closer to “a battle between pro and con Tsai Ing-wen.”

However, the Tsai government, which lost popular support last November, has not listened to the vox populi or felt the pain of the people; instead, the president believes that by winning the hearts of the Green camp elites, she can stabilize her political power. However, by siding with the interests of the factions, she often undermines social justice and the interests of the grassroots.

You might also like: Trump must urgently focus on Taiwan security

In fact, though it is worrisome that US President Donald Trump wants to use Taiwan as a chess piece, it is even more horrible that Tsai has always wanted to be a chess player. It is true that the two big powers, the US and China, are fiercely competing in a range of areas, from economics and trade to geopolitics and ideology, both to gain the upper hand; however, the PLA’s strength has been rising, while the US has many battlefronts, and Washington still has to consider the various potential consequences of an eventual full-scale conflict with China.

Analysts point out that Trump had asked his national security staff, “What good would there be for the US to support Taiwan?” After his national security staff listed the pros and cons, Trump set his sights on China, where the US could derive more benefits. For small states sandwiched between the two big powers, the US and China, their considerations will not be so well rounded as those of the two big powers. Some small states may deliberately incite conflicts between the two big powers because of ideology, national interest, personal political ideas, or personal political interests, eventually leading to war and culminating in a lose-lose situation. The 2020 election campaign has been heating up, and the electoral prospects do not look good for the DPP; this is probably something that the Blue and the White camps, as well as the US and China, need to take to heart.

Taiwan has already undergone the baptism of six direct presidential elections, with nearly every election having been focused on the binomial confrontation between the “economics card” and the “sovereignty card”

Taiwan has already undergone the baptism of six direct presidential elections, with nearly every election having been focused on the binomial confrontation between the “economics card” and the “sovereignty card,” which have also been an unavoidable attack and defense in the pursuit of the highest office of the land. In 2000 and 2004, Chen Shui-bian played the “sovereignty card” and won: in 2008 and 2012, the “economics card” had the upper hand with Ma Ying-jeou winning. However, in 2016, Tsai changed the steady route; even though the KMT underwent several twists and turns, such as the Sunflower student movement and the coalition between the White and Green, reducing its strength substantially, Tsai did not dare play the sovereignty card because she knew that the public in Taiwan did not support the DPP’s narrative on independence.

Now the Tsai government has been in office for three years and cross-strait relations have seriously retrogressed. The voters who believed that the DPP would not ruin cross-strait relations feel deceived. The latest polls show that over 50% of the public is worried that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could face war because of the reunification-independence issue. The Tsai government’s cross-strait policies have failed, as have its agricultural and economic policies; the grassroots economics is under attack, with the annuities reforms eliciting popular grievances and endless protests, leading to Tsai’s support ratings continually sliding.

Last year’s nine-in-one local elections forced Tsai to turn back and consolidate the pan-Green support base, playing the “anti-China card” and the “sovereignty card.” However, these campaign tactics were contrary to the structure of the vox populi. The latest public opinion polls show that 50% of people support strengthening cross-strait economic and trade relations, and only 20% oppose it. This is precisely the societal foundation for Han Kuo-yu to rise with the trend of the “Han vogue.” And the DPP’s stunning defeat in the nine-in-one local elections, losing seven counties and cities that used to be ruled by the governing party, was the reason Tsai resigned from the party chairmanship in disgrace; it was not a lack of communication, but being contrary to the vox populi.

However, the Tsai government not only failed to admit its mistakes, but rather intensified its efforts to provoke a more serious anti-China response and sense of crisis, hoping to boost its electoral prospects. The DPP, in its campaign tactics, wants the people to choose between war and peace; however, the structure of the vox populi shows that what the people in Taiwan want is peace. When choosing between sovereignty and having a full stomach, what society wants is to strive for a good economy.

The crux of the 2020 election lies not in letting the KMT return to power, but in unseating the DPP, which supports Taiwan independence. In next year’s election campaign, the DPP’s strategy is crystal clear, that is, hate China, China-phobia, and counter China, using all opportunities to create cross-strait confrontations, rupturing the social fabric, using ideologies to anesthetize the masses, and covering up abuses of power and incompetence in the past three years; in other words, it is “consider prolonging political power for itself, while caring nothing for the life and death of Taiwan.”

During the three years under the Tsai administration, popular grievances abound, not only leaving cross-strait relations to be mired in a precarious situation, even causing adversities in people’s livelihoods and economic decline. For this reason, in 2020, the DPP must be brought down, creating a new opportunity for Taiwan; this has become the consensus of all people and the greatest objective.

With regard to who will emerge as the KMT’s standard-bearer in the 2020 presidential election, KMT chairman Wu Den-yih has completed individual consultations and communication with all the hopefuls, i.e., Foxconn chairman Terry Guo, Eric Chu, Wang Jin-pyng, and Kaohsiung City Mayor Han Kuo-yu, who was invited to enter the primary, laying an open and fair foundation for the primary within the KMT. In the future, who will emerge as the winner remains to be seen; however, as the overall situation has developed up to now, some trends have emerged and they should be examined carefully.

Although it makes the KMT’s electoral prospects in next year’s presidential election look better, in reality, having Han and Guo as two strong batters may be problematic. As things stand now, no matter which approach the KMT adopts, the eventual winner will probably be either Han or Guo. Many people have pinned their hopes on Han and Guo, who are stronger than traditional Blue camp politicians.

Han won the grassroots support of the Blue camp; he has opened a window of opportunity for cross-strait relations, which is now in the doldrums, using his strength to push for mutual trust. However, whether the new building block he has created can be the next president’s foundation for a new situation depends on whether the people are willing to work toward building goodwill across the Taiwan Strait. According to opinion polls, Guo’s support among the younger generation is higher than Han’s; it is presumed that principally people believe that he has the capacity to lead Taiwan out of the bottleneck of development.

After its disastrous defeat in 2016, the KMT was on its last legs, but now, surprisingly, it could regain power; this kind of opportunity must be cherished. Two trump cards, Han and Gou, have appeared in the pan-Blue camp; if the duo can, in an impartial and transparent system, exhibit their respective strong suits and characteristics, showing their countrymen a rational and new look in the competition with substantive content, it will inevitably increase the positive momentum and elevate the image of the pan-Blue camp. From the competition between Han and Guo to the competition between the Blue and White, neither should forget the great goal of bringing down the DPP and reconstructing cross-strait relations.

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.