Elections in Taiwan, what William Lai’s victory means for China and the USA: possible scenarios

Taiwan went to the vote on Saturday January 13th the candidate of the was declared the winner Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) “William” Lai Ching-tewho will take office in May 2024 and whose government mandate will last for four years, until May 2028. The elections saw great participation, with a turnout of 70% of the population. Lai Ching-te won by more than 40% of the votes (40.2%) against the other two main rivals: Hou Yu-hee of the Nationalist Party Kuomintang (KMT) with 33.4% of the votes and Ko Wen-jie of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Lai’s victory fits into the framework of already tense relations with the China who does not recognize theformal independence of the island, a scenario in which the United States. Let’s find out together why these elections are important from a geopolitical point of view and what the future scenarios are.

Tensions with China

The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as part of its territory in what is an age-old confrontation between the nation and the Pacific island. Taiwan has de facto independence de factobut the government of Beijing it never recognized its independence de jurehaving the project of one reunification of Taiwan to mainland China, in what is the “One China policy”. The three main parties in Taiwan’s elections were the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which had already been in office since 2016, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). The party of Kuomintang (KMT) it’s a nationalist party who ruled China and who in 1949 after losing the civil war against the Chinese Communist Party took refuge in Taiwan. He is currently in favor of a dialogue with the Beijing governmenta position shared by the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).
On the contrary, the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party who emerged victorious from the elections, William Lai Ching-te, who will take the place of the outgoing president Tsai Ing-wenhas a history in favor ofindependence of Taiwan from China and does not recognize the sovereignty claims of the Beijing government. The latter in turn announced that his victory will not prevent the trial reunification. Even before the election results, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense denounced the Chinese presence around the island, sending numerous jets and military shipsin a tense situation which also sees the involvement of the United States.

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The role of the United States

The United States they are looking carefully at the situation in Taiwan, to which they have provided support in the past from the point of view of military defense, although not formally recognizing its independence. In fact, according to one law of 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States would not only maintain commercial and cultural relations with Taiwan, but also announced to provide the island with defense services to preserve its survival. The importance of Taiwan is not only strategic from the point of view geographical but also economic: the island, in fact, is a thriving economy and one of leading global semiconductor manufacturers (more than 60% globally) used in the IT, automotive and defense industries and therefore the United States wants to prevent China from expanding its sphere of influence on the island and in the region. Despite this, the US government reiterated after the results of the elections last January 13th that the United States they neither support nor recognise formally Taiwanese independence, in what is a delicate and ambiguous game of balance of power. In fact, the United States, while recognizing the principle of the one-China policy, has never legitimized either the claims of the Beijing government or those of Taipei.
To date, Taiwan is formally recognized as theChina’s only legitimate government only from 12 States: Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Marshall Islands, Palau, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, eSwatini, Tuvalu, Vatican City. The State of Nauru immediately after the election results announced the end of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

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Possible future scenarios for Taiwan

Lai Ching-te’s victory confirms the will of the people of Taiwan to reclaim their existence and independence from China. The newly elected candidate undoubtedly represents the largest wing democratic and independent of the country and during the electoral campaign he had declared that he wanted strengthen the defense of Taiwan and its proximity to the United States, while from an economic point of view, Taiwan seems inclined to further strengthen its economic agreements and trade relations. This victory, on the Chinese side, could give rise to two scenarios: the first is the search for a dialogue with the Taipei government, softening its closed positions compared to the past and opting for greater prudence towards Taiwan, while not recognizing its sovereignty. This strategy would be the most advantageous for both the United States and China from an economic point of view and for maintaining geopolitical balances in the region. On the other hand, China could instead choose for one closure deciding to strengthen their own military pressure on the island and in the Taiwan Strait, increasing tension between the two countries and with the United States. Much will therefore depend on the direction that the new Taiwanese candidate will give to his government, together with the choices and moves of the US government.