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Taiwan’s choice: China or the United States?

Following overseas trips by the current and former Taiwanese presidents, political parties are gearing up for Taiwan’s 2024 election, with the slogan “war or peace” dominating the conversation.

Following two high-profile overseas trips by President Tsai Ing-wen and former leader Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s major political parties are gradually gearing up for the 2024 presidential election.

Branding his trip to mainland China as an attempt to restore peace across the Taiwan Strait, Ma — who is from the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) — said tension with China had escalated under Tsai’s administration and Taiwan would have to choose between “peace and war.”

On the other hand, Tsai — who recently met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — told journalists that leaders of Taiwan’s two Central American allies, Guatemala and Belize, had reaffirmed their diplomatic ties with the democratic island.

She also pointed out that lawmakers from both parties in the United States also expressed solidarity with Taiwan.

Potential presidential candidates offer competing narratives 

Some Taiwanese experts say the choice of destinations for Ma and Tsai’s overseas trips represents the two different paths for Taiwan in international politics and the contrast reflects the competition between democracy and autocracy.

“Through the visits, the KMT and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can consolidate their political bases,” said Fang-Yu Chen, a political scientist at Taiwan’s Soochow University, adding that whether independent voters will buy into the narratives presented by each party remains to be seen.

Apart from Tsai and Ma’s high-profile trips to China and the US, potential presidential candidates from each party have also been setting the tone for their own presidential campaigns.

‘Democracy and authoritarianism’ not ‘peace and war’

William Lai, Taiwan’s current Vice President, was formally named DPP’s presidential candidate on April 12. During his first speech after accepting the nomination, Lai argued that the 2024 presidential election is a choice between “democracy and authoritarianism” rather than “peace and war.”

“Former President Ma walked back into the framework of the ‘One China’ principle, whereas President Tsai is on the democratic path,” he said.

“These will be the two completely different choices the country will face after 2024, so the 2024 election will decide Taiwan’s direction — on the continuation of a democratic system, the next generation’s happiness, as well as peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Lai added.

Chinese war games 

Earlier in April, Terry Gou, the founder of Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn, announced his bid for the KMT presidential nomination.

During a press conference, Gou said Taiwan should avoid taking sides in the competition between China and the US.

He warned young voters about the potential danger of voting for the DPP because the party had “called for Taiwan independence and advocated hating and resisting China.”

“Peace cannot be taken for granted. It requires the people to make the right decision,” Gou said.

And after China launched another large-scale military exercise around Taiwan following Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy, Chen believes the KMT will try to frame itself as the only party that can help achieve peace across the Taiwan Strait.

“Since China now sets some prerequisites for which Taiwanese politicians or political parties can interact with them, the KMT will keep doubling down on the claim that they are the only political party that can maintain exchanges with Beijing,” Chen said.

“However, Tsai’s trip has rekindled Taiwanese people’s concerns about the confrontation between democracy and autocracy and offered them a reason to fall in line with the DPP. This may help the DPP to get a head start in the preparation for the 2024 presidential election,” Chen concluded.

Taiwanese people worry about cross-Strait peace and security

While some experts suggest the DPP’s narrative of choosing between “democracy and autocracy” may resonate with more Taiwanese voters, some Taiwanese people told DW that they think the most important issue for them in the upcoming presidential election is peace across the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s own security.

A survey examining Taiwanese people’s view on the former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August shows that a majority of Taiwanese respondents believe Pelosi’s trip was detrimental to the island’s security, and the surveys also suggest a considerable number of Taiwanese voters are concerned about entrapment by the US.

“A majority of KMT supporters and independents believed that Pelosi’s visit had made Taiwan less secure, while a majority of DPP supporters felt the opposite was true,” according to the authors of the survey, which was released by the American think-tank Brookings Institute on April 5.

Competing narratives

With the recent trips by Tsai and Ma helping to strengthen the confidence of DPP and KMT’s political base, some experts say independent voters may become the decisive factor in the 2024 presidential election, and they are the group of people that both parties will try to win over.

“Independent voters are not really aligned with either the KMT or the DPP, and they are the group of people that the two parties will be fighting for narratively,” said Lev Nachman, a political scientist at the National Chengchi University in Taipei.. “Both parties will accuse the other for bringing potential catastrophe to Taiwan and both are going to claim that they are the ones defending Taiwan’s best interests.”

And as the war in Ukraine continues, Chen from Soochow University told DW that the KMT and DPP will continue to amplify their competing narratives of “Taiwan should avoid upsetting major powers in the world” versus “Taiwan should keep strengthening defense because autocrats are irrational.”

“The two mainstream arguments will continue, but it’s hard to determine which narrative will have the upper hand right now,” he said.

Source: DW