Geopolitics

Taiwan Election Results brings Embarrassment for China
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 20 Jan , 2024

 Under Shadow

Taiwan’s Presidential elections have generated considerable interest globally thanks to its ongoing tussle with China. The elections held on the 13thJanuary 2023, returned the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to power for the third consecutive time, overcoming all speculations of incumbency factors. The elections held special significance due to considerable pressure from China for a more favourable outcome. China involved itself in a major way to influence the electioneering process and discredit candidates it sees as ‘future problems’. The gravity of the issue was so great, that the US had to issue multiple warnings and cautions to China to let Taiwan freely elect its President.

It was under these backdrops that DPP’s William Lai Ching-te, current vice President, who is openly seen as taking a tough stance towards China on cross-straits affairs, emerged triumphant. His victory margin of over nine hundred thousand votes against the nearest competitor in the fray Hou Yu-ihof Kuomintang. William Lai ran with Hsiao Bi-him as his running mate for the post of vice President, who has no less interesting background. She left her assignment of being Taiwan’s US representative just before the elections to join DPP’s campaigning. It is believed her official association with the State Department allowed the US a close understanding of China’s influencing mechanisms, especially targeting DPP.

What emerged as interesting in the final result is the focus on foreign policy matters overshadowed local issues of declining industrial output, increasing cost of living, rising pricesand social care. Data compiled by Taiwan’s Election and Democratization Study showed economic development was an overwhelming concern for people as compared to cross-strait relationships. This made the results surprising as the incumbent government was seen as increasingly unpopular on the economic front. It indicates some unseen factor that played up midway through the campaigning.

There are analysts who state that Lai secured 40 percent of the votes cast while Huo of the KMT secured 33 percent and Ko Wen of the new Party – Taiwan Peoples Party secured 26 percent of the total votes which indicates that the DPP does not have a free-run majority for its pro-independence agenda.  

Final analysis of the result will take some time, but surely China can take a larger amount of credit for the same. Its overarching policy of interference by mollycoddling candidates opposing William Lai proved counterproductive and worked in favour of the incumbent party. It’s harsh but unfortunately, China doesn’t understand how democracies work, or how the aspirational will of common people becomes immeasurable strength to nations. All these factors remain truly alien to China.

Deep Disappointment

All this while China laid out an extensive charade to influence Taiwanese voters against voting for the incumbent party. It exploited social media, issued threats of war, opened investigations against Taiwanese manufacturers and continued with dollar diplomacy to further isolate Taiwan from its few friends. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office was the nodal agency for coordinating Chinese actions running up to Taiwan’s elections. The fear of Chinese interference was running so deep,with its President showing personal interest, that itpulled out a major action plan even involving its shady Base 311 cyber warfare formation. China’s ‘threat for submission’ approach made many in the West and India sit up and take notice.

It was appreciated that while China doesn’t like all this election charade being played on the island, it has still settled for a favourable outcome i.e. ouster of DPP from power. It didn’t show any hesitation in expressing its sentiments in as many words. Often China’s foreign office brief referred to DPP leaders as ‘warmongers’ who purposefully adopted a confrontationist approach against an accommodative China. Very few had anticipated including China itself that its ‘Will’, would crash in such a spectacular way. This deep disappointment was evident with CCP’s mouthpiece Global Times running an anxious commentary on the results, referring to voting in Taiwan as ‘regional elections’ and expressing hope that new authorities would abandon their ‘hostile and separatist’ policy towards the mainland.

Democracy Works

Taiwan election results made two things very clear and both have a key message, especially for China; firstly, China Failed and secondly, Democracy Works! Taiwan must be complimented for working its way through the Chinese swindlers. It is no mean feat and perhaps the first instance with a valuable lesson for democracies and authoritarian regimes who were exploiting democratic contests to push their preferred candidates to the seat of power. Countries after country complained of interference in their domestic election process pointing fingers towards authoritarian regimes. Some of them could successfully call it out and some fell prey to it like Maldives!

Having realised with reliable inputs what China is up to, Taiwan adopted multiple measures in its run-up to national elections. Taiwan maintained track of all fake social media accounts and got them routinely blocked. It also monitored the origin of motivated messages and chat groups, it routinely highlighted fake Chinese propaganda through its mainstream media.It maintained coverage of influencing attempts through Chinese officials. Beijing’s proposals such as sponsored visits tothe mainland for Taiwanese leaders and business people were called out.

Taiwan also successfully pickedthe main theme for the Chinese disinformation campaign, whichwas to,discredit the government’s economic policies and the likely resultant collapse of trade and commerce. China hoped toencash negative domestic sentiments in Taiwan over the economic front by aggressively highlighting it through passive and active measures. However, China didn’t expect Taiwan to play this smart. Taiwan used pointed investigations launched by China on Taiwanese imports to expose its real intent.It is felt that Chinese actions convinced Taiwanese voters of its motivated agenda and characterised China asanevil in the shroud.

Continued scrutiny by global media and astute support by like-minded countries including the US, emerged as another key factor for ensuring fair elections in Taiwan. Post Taiwanese experience it is now felt that to rout atargeted and relentless disinformation agenda by hostile powers, a sustained global information campaign is a very effective counter-response. As the world moves from one national election to another, Taiwan’s successful modal for countering sponsored disinformation campaigns should be taken as a global benchmark.

Transactional Approach

China adopted a ruthless transactional approach towards Taiwan and its national elections, employing all means whether bad or ugly, aiming to benefit at any cost. In business parlance, this could have been termed as an attempted hostile takeover. First, send an offer to ‘partner on own terms’ else, decimate it into submission. There are no good choices for the other one, it’s only choosing a lesser evil. That ‘little tiny’ Taiwan could beat it out and chart a course of its own has astounded CCP managers at all levels. Internally in China, some heads would surely be rolling soon, but the outcome in Taiwan glows like a burst of sunshine and hope for the rest of the world.

It demonstrated how coordination amongcountries, responsible media houses, and social media giants has reinforced people’s faith in the democratic process. It quickly led to callout disinformation campaigns and allowed swift response by plugging out its breathing spaces. It is just one of China’s follies that got exposed and created embarrassment forit. It though doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to draw well-intended lessons. Undoubtedly China will continue to become wiser and humbled on the global stage as long as‘the party’ refuses to mend the ways.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Ravi Srivastava

experienced in security and geopolitics, contributes to national publications and newspapers. His articles can be accessed on the popular blog site newsanalytics.co.in, focusing on geo-strategic affairs.

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