The three men vying to be Taiwan’s next president

(L-R) Ko Wen-je, Hou Yu-ih and William Lai are in a three-way race to be leader
Published January 5, 2024

On 13 January, Taiwan will elect a new president in a critical race that could redefine the island’s relationship with China.

Beijing has long claimed self-governed Taiwan as a breakaway province and has loomed over the island’s elections since the first one in 1996.

This year’s race to replace sitting President Tsai Ing-wen is happening at a time when Taiwan has emerged as a key flashpoint between the US and China. Geopolitics aside, low wages and soaring home prices are among the domestic challenges weighing on voters.

The current vice-president from the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is on the ballot. He is leading polls by a small margin, followed by a former police chief who is running on the main opposition party Koumintang or KMT’s ticket. An ex-city mayor, who had initially upset calculations in the winner-takes-all race, appears now to be trailing well behind. The legislative elections, where each voter will cast one ballot for their district and another for at-large seats, will run on the same day.

Here’s more on the three presidential hopefuls and their running mates.



RELATED: Taiwan election poses early 2024 test of U.S. aim to steady China ties

Hou Yu-ih, a candidate for Taiwan’s presidency from the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) gestures to his supporters at a campaign event in New Taipei City, Taiwan January 5, 2024. REUTERS/Ann Wang Acquire Licensing Rights
Published January 5, 2024

WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Taiwan’s election next week poses challenges for Washington no matter who wins, with a victory for the ruling party sure to exacerbate tensions with China while an opposition triumph may raise awkward questions about the island’s defense policies.

The Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary contests represent the first real wild card in 2024 for the Biden administration’s goal of stabilizing ties with China.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has gone as far as to cast the island’s elections as a choice between war and peace across the Taiwan Strait, warning that any attempt to push for Taiwan’s formal independence means conflict. Taiwan’s government rejects China’s sovereignty assertion.

U.S. officials have been careful to avoid appearing to steer or to interfere with the island’s democratic process.

“Our strong expectation and hope is that those elections be free of intimidation or coercion, or interference from all sides. The United States is not involved and will not be involved in these elections,” U.S. ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said in December.

Such detachment has proved tricky in the past. The Obama administration raised eyebrows before Taiwan’s 2012 election when a senior U.S. official aired doubts about whether then-presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen could maintain a stable relationship with China.

Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), lost that year but won the presidency in 2016 and reelection in 2020 and tensions with China soared, raising fears Beijing might act on its vow to bring Taiwan under its control by force if necessary.



RELATED: Opinion – Understanding Taiwan’s 2024 Presidential Election

Published January 4, 2024

Taiwan is situated at the epicenter of the clash between the rule-based international order led by the US and the resurgence of the Chinese international order in the Indo-Pacific region. In practical terms, the Taiwan issue holds the potential to trigger a nuclear war between the US and China. Over the past eight years, the international community has credited President Tsai Ing-wen for steering Taiwan as a reliable, predictable, and stable force in the rule-based international order. Under her leadership, Taiwan and, consequently, the Indo-Pacific region have safely navigated the treacherous waters of the U.S.-China competition. But, will the next president of Taiwan be able to do the same?

As the 2024 Taiwan Presidential Election nears, it is imperative to scrutinize the candidates’ positions on US-China competition, whilst examining their worldviews as a basis for conjecturing the potential scenarios for regional security around Taiwan. Certainly, candidates’ personal worldviews may not be a perfect indicator for predicting Taiwan’s future policies toward the US and China because this island country is a democracy, of which a host of factors matter in the policymaking process. However, those worldviews could serve as a foundation on which to envision where Taiwan would be heading, given the significant power of Taiwan’s president in making foreign and security policies. In short, while all the candidates are realists, distrust China, talk about deterrence, and hold the position that the country they live in is an independent country, the major difference distinguishing them from one another is their approach to managing the China threat – which has long-lasting impacts on the regional security.

The candidate currently leading in the polls is Lai Ching-te, representing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Lai is the current Vice President of Taiwan and has served as Premier, Mayor of Tainan, and Legislator. On the issue of Taiwan sovereignty, Lai unequivocally rejected any unification proposals from Beijing, including One Country Two Systems or the 92 Consensus. This stance led him to formulate a four-pillars-of-peace strategy to manage China’s future encroachment on Taiwan—deterrence, economic diversification, strengthened partnerships with like-minded countries, and steady and principled cross-strait leadership. A close relationship with the US is indispensable to the success of this strategy as it can greatly strengthen the first three pillars. As his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim stressed, “As we have been put in a situation where the geostrategic challenges are formidable. And a rock-solid partnership with the US is critically important right now.”





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