Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu speaks at a campaign event in June. Han, who favours closer ties with Beijing, was named as presidential candidate for the KMT or Kuomintang, the main opposition party, as it looks to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen in upcoming polls. Photo: Daniel Shih / AFP

Can Han Kuo-yu beat Tsai Ing-wen in 2020?
Han Kuo-yu can do it.
Yes, he can.

Nevertheless, how to turn the block of popular zeal of ardent expectations into a force to defeat Tsai, even becoming the mandate for governance that all people trust, Han Kuo-yu, I’m afraid, has a very long battlefront that needs to be consolidated. The most urgent one is how to open up his mind to call for the KMT’s solidarity, making friends and seeking advice extensively, thus elevating his vista.

I’ve been sensing Han’s rise for several weeks, even before his poll numbers went up and the media air around him brightened. In different cities, with various people of liberal but not identical tastes, I’ve been asking a question that turns into conversations that go like this:

Q: Who do you like among the candidates running for president?
A: Anyone who can beat Tsai Ing-wen.
Q: But who?
A: I have to say I’m liking Han Kuo-yu.

Since Han emerged as the KMT presidential candidate, he has not only had to face the cruel pursuit for a kill by the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen, but also, at the same time, being tied down in Kaohsiung by various municipal problems. Under such circumstances, he probably does not have much time and energy to set up a presidential campaign team or enrich his narrative on governance. These gaps will all rely on comrades within the party and even like-minded figures in society to fill and help, for achieving results. The top priority of Han, as bellwether in the party primary, is to galvanize intraparty support, while avoiding the occurrence of division.

Some have likened him to US President Donald Trump and other populist leaders who hail from outside establishment circles. His policy proposals are wonky, so they’re not easy to condense into a column, but if you want the details, they’re not hard to find. Part of what makes him attractive is that he knows stuff. Serious stuff. His fight is grounded not just in passion but in knowledge.

Last November, Han was elected mayor of Kaohsiung, a traditional ruling party stronghold, largely by pledging to improve the local economy. A rising star, he is a charismatic speaker who often appears with his blue shirt sleeves rolled halfway up. So what is Han fighting for? “Taiwan safe, people rich,” he has said. “We are going to create an economic miracle… Let’s work hard for our next generation.”

The KMT has lost power for more than three years; now it is able to quickly find an opportunity to make a comeback, but of course it must be cautious and prudent, not letting negligence or omissions spoil the campaign. After last year’s local elections, a saying in the streets was “Han Kuo-yu is bigger than the KMT,” possibly being quite insulting to the traditional KMT elites. In fact, a more accurate narrative should be “the Han fans are greater than the KMT.” Only when the KMT sought the popular support that transcends the old KMT could it regain power. Based on this logic, only when Han continues to elevate himself and open up can Han fans become even stronger.

The sudden resurgence of discussion concerning cross-strait relations will certainly make the subject of China and Taiwan’s national security a hot-button issue in the upcoming election cycle

The sudden resurgence of discussion concerning cross-strait relations will certainly make the subject of China and Taiwan’s national security a hot-button issue in the upcoming election cycle. However, Tsai does not know how to tackle the complex political situations in Taiwan, especially the delicate cross-strait relationship. Nonetheless, being characterized as both an ineffective leader and a maternal defender, she is one to be repelled. If the Tsai government declines and fails to act constructively as cross-strait relations become increasingly important on the world stage, then let Han do it!

The true mainstream vox populi is hoping to terminate the vicious fighting between the two major parties in Taiwan, and hoping for cross-Strait peace, with the resurgence of Taiwan’s economy, making people prosperous. Han said he will aim to move Taiwan away from poverty and unhappiness once he becomes Taiwan’s leader.

The 2020 presidential election campaign has raised its curtain. In the past six months, Tsai has manipulated issues such as anti-China, counter-China, and safeguarding sovereignty, and utilized the pro-Taiwan faction in Washington to change the coordinates of US-Taiwan relations, causing a deterioration of cross-Strait relations, and increasing difficulties in grassroots livelihoods. The vox populi is definitely pro-change.

The Han vogue represents the ordinary citizens who are not satisfied with the Tsai government, and are hoping to inject vitality into society. In the last election, Han created the dynamic vogue; in the 2020 presidential election, Han must follow in the footsteps of the Han vogue to beat Tsai and make the dreams of ordinary citizens come true.

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Kent Wang

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.

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