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Updated Jan 12, 2024, 9:41am EST
politicsEast Asia
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Semafor Signals

Former Taiwanese leader’s China-friendly comments could cost his party the election

Insights from Taipei Times, The Strait Times, and Taiwan News

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
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The News

A former Taiwanese president’s claim that China could be trusted on cross-strait issues, days before the island’s critical election, could cost his party votes in the tight three-way race, analysts said.

Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang or KMT party told German outlet Deutsche Welle that Taiwan could “never win a war with the mainland,” and also voiced openness to unifying Taiwan with mainland China, a view supported by only a tiny proportion of Taiwan’s population.

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Ahead of Saturday’s vote, China’s military said it would “crush” any efforts to promote independence in Taiwan and that it was on standby to take any “necessary measures.”

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Ma’s nationalist KMT party distances itself from him

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Sources:  
Taipei Times, Liberty Times Net

For the first time, Ma has not been invited to a major election rally held by the KMT — a sign that the party wants to distance itself from the former leader’s remarks. “Former president Ma and I have very different positions on certain issues,” KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih told the Taipei Times on Friday. “When it comes to cross-strait issues, we cannot rely on goodwill from one side,” he said, adding that he would not “touch on the issue of reunification” if elected. William Lai, Hou’s main opponent from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), accused the nationalist candidate of bluffing — saying was “obvious” that Hou was distancing himself from the former leader because of the consequential ballot.

Ma’s comments could tilt election in DPP’s favor

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Sources:  
The Strait Times, Taiwan News

Hou’s supporters may worry that the KMT will “sacrifice Taiwan’s interests” following Ma’s comments, one Taiwan expert told The Strait Times. “To say these things just a few days before the election will likely cost the party crucial median voters,” the analyst said. The DPP has moved swiftly to capitalize on Ma’s remarks. Lai, acknowledging Taiwanese people’s fears of becoming like Hong Kong, has told reporters that he plans to “strengthen national defense” and “form a deterrent force” to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific — arguing that acting otherwise would force Taiwan under China’s authoritarian rule, Taiwan News reported.

A vote about war or peace, change or continuity

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Sources:  
The Japan Times, The New York Times

China has denounced the DPP as separatist and suggested that four more years under the pro-independence group would escalate tensions with the mainland. Such a warning has played out differently among voters — with some analysts framing the upcoming election as a vote for “change or continuity” in the island’s China policy amid worsening economic issues. Wen-Ti Sung, an expert in Taiwanese politics, told The Japan Times that Hou had a “fighting chance” of winning because he was campaigning on the “choice between war and peace” and accused the DPP of heightening tensions with Beijing. Recent polls suggest that Taiwanese people want the island to maintain its ambiguous status quo and not risk angering Beijing by pursuing independence, The New York Times reported. But surveys also suggest that few residents see prospects for a peaceful agreement with China that they could accept.

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