Taiwan Elections 2020: Landslide Victory for Tsai Ing-wen
Dr Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, VIF

In the just concluded 15th Presidential Election in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader Tsai Ing-wen has swept the polls with 8, 170, 231 votes (57.1 per cent). She secured the highest number of votes for any candidate since Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996. Her contender this time was Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu from the Kuomintang (KMT) party and Chairman James Soong from the People’s First Party (PFP). Han Kuo-yu received, 5,522,119 votes (38.6 per cent) and James Soong received 608,590 votes (4.3 per cent). The vote share is in stark contrast to the result of the local elections held in 2018. In the 2018 local elections, the DPP lost 7 out of 13 cities and counties, including two special municipalities: Taichung and Kaohsiung. The KMT secured 15 cities and counties, including three municipalities. 1

In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen got elected as the first women President of Taiwan with 6894744 (56.1) votes. This will be her second term, in her last four-year stint she proved her mettle in handing the Cross-Strait relation and the shrinking diplomatic space. Even since Tsai Ing-wen became the President of Taiwan, China has made systematic effort to shrink the diplomatic space of Taiwan. Six of its allies, Kiribati, (2019), Solomon Islands (2019), El Salvador (2018), Burkina Faso (2018), Dominican Republic (2018), Panama (2017), Gambia (2016) and Sao Tome and Principle (2016) severed their ties after Tsai Ing-wen became the President. Her deep knowledge in handling the Cross-Strait relations has helped her these four years to handle the Cross-Strait relations.

Earlier, during the 2008 DPP government, she was handling the Mainland Affairs Council and was an adviser to former President Lee Teng-hui, she co-authored the book, ‘Two-State Solution’ as opposed to China’s proposal of ‘One-country, two systems’.

Factors supporting her victory

At the outset, the encroachment by China on Taiwan’s sovereignty has played a big role in Tsai Ing-wen’s victory. During the elections, China tried to influence Taiwan’s election through a disinformation campaign.2 Ahead of the elections, to safeguard its internal political structure and the upcoming Presidential elections, Taiwan passed an “Anti-Infiltration Law” that protects Taiwan from individuals, institutions or organisations affiliated with or sponsored by the government, political party or other political groups of a foreign hostile force.3 The law states that anyone who receives funding, instructions or donations from “external forces” to mobilise public rallies, for election campaign activities, to lobby government officials or lawmakers, or disturb the social order could be jailed for up to five years and fined up to NTD10 million.

Amid the Hong Kong protests, the Cross-Strait relations became the central issue. In her election campaign, she assured that “Taiwan will not become Hong Kong”. She called on the voters to reject the “one country, two systems” model in Hong Kong and reminded them that China has proposed the same for Taiwan.4 In her victory speech, Tsai Ing-wen called for unity and called for defending Taiwan’s sovereignty. On the domestic issues, she also declared a long list of administrative policies such as policies to help families with small children, taxi drivers, night –market vendors, small-shop owners, retired farmers and young entrepreneurs.5

The increasing proximity to the US in her last tenure has added to her success in this election. On 30 June 2017, the United States, State Department announced the arms sales package worth USD 1.4 billion to Taiwan. The deal comprises seven items, including technical support for early warning radar, anti-radiation missiles, torpedoes and components for SM-2 missiles.6 In October 2018, a second arms package, worth an estimated USD 330 million, was approved.7 In July 2019, the US approved the sale of USD 2 billion in military hardware to Taiwan.8

In July 2019, the US also approved the sale of M1A2T Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles and related equipment to Taiwan. The deal is estimated to be around USD 2.2 billion.9 The US upgraded its de facto embassy, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the US ships have sailed across the Taiwan Strait more frequently. Hence increasing the US presence in Taiwan. Soon after the election results, the US hailed Tsai Ing-wen’s victory as a sign of Taiwan’s “robust democratic system”.

Chinese Reaction to Tsai Ing-wen’s Victory

On the re-election of Tsai ing-wen, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated: “the election in the Taiwan region is a sub-national affair in China. We deplore and firmly oppose those countries’ violation of the one-China principle by taking such a move, and we have lodged solemn representations.” 10 An editorial in the China Daily, “Taiwan poll can't change reunification trend” and criticised Tsai Ing-wen and DPP’s overall strategy. The article states that the DPP has used the “independence” card against the call for reunification and has used the “the US card” to win the elections.11

Implications for India

Tsai Ing wen’s association with India goes back to 2011. In 2011, she visited New Delhi as the Chairman of the DPP. She has reinitiated the New Southbound Policy that aims at reinvigorating and expanding ties with Southeast Asia and South Asia. The Chairman of Taiwan External Trade Development Council James Huang has said that India is the “jewel” in the NSP. Notably, India is a big market for Taiwan to reduce its dependence on China that is the principal objective of the New Southbound Policy. The trade between India-Taiwan has increased from 5.32 billion in 2016 to 7.05 billion in 2018 with an aim of 10 billion in 2020. Overall, the bilateral trade has grown around 40 per cent in two year. In 2018, the Taiwanese FDI to India has increased to USD 360 million. The bilateral trade has grown around 40 per cent in two years. The Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) has opened its fourth office and now India has the third-highest number of TAITRA offices in India after China (10) and the US (5).

There are many complimentaries between the New Southbound Policy and India’s Act East Policy. The Taiwanese hardware companies can work along with the in the Indian software companies. On 18 December 2018, India and Taiwan had signed the Bilateral Investment Agreement and a treaty to mutually recognise the authorized Economic operations (AEO) programme. The on-going US-China Trade dispute is yet another opportunity for India and Taiwan to enhance their collaboration. There is great opportunity to strengthen this in this partnership. To sum up, in the second term of Tsai- Ing-wen, India-Taiwan economic engagement is likely to increase. Century Development Corporation (CDC), Taiwan, has already agreed to build an industrial park in Bangalore.

  1. https://www.vifindia.org/article/2018/december/12/blue-vs-green-an-analysis-of-the-mid-term-elections-in-taiwan
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/technology/taiwan-election-china-disinformation.html
  3. https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=2,6,10,15,18&post=168755
  4. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3039052/could-hong-kong-protests-give-tsai-ing-wen-edge-taiwans
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/12/opinion/taiwan-election-tsai-han-populism.html
  6. https://www.vifindia.org/article/2018/february/23/taiwan-in-the-evolving-geopolitics-of-the-indo-pacific
  7. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3561174
  8. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/09/world/asia/taiwan-arms-sales.html
  9. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-taiwan/u-s-state-department-approves-possible-2-2-billion-arms-sale-to-taiwan-idUSKCN1U32HT
  10. http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/fyrth/t1731296.htm
  11. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202001/13/WS5e1bd652a310cf3e355841b7.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tsai_Ing-wen_and_TAPA_nobori_marching_20191130c.jpg

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