China on Monday criticized nations that congratulated the winner of Taiwan’s closely-watched presidential election, as the island state of Nauru broke off diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
Vice President William Lai of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) won Saturday’s vote, securing a historic third term for his party in a ballot framed as a battle between “democracy and autocracy.”
While the ruling party received warm congratulations from allies including the U.S. and U.K., China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, condemned their praise and was quick to dismiss the election result.
China’s hostility towards the DPP will persist
Beijing’s response to the DPP’s win was unsurprising to observers, who are waiting to see if further provocation is on its way. In his 2024 New Year’s address, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said that “China will surely be unified” — a stance he made clear to U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last year. “We are either in for loud Pelosi-esq military drills from the PRC, a more muted set of military threats, or some angry, aggressive rhetoric,” wrote Lev Nachman, a professor at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University. China has refused to engage in cross-strait talks with the DPP and has outrightly coined Lai a separatist. Lai, however, has declared that he is open to talks with China, saying on the evening of his win that so long as discussions ensure the dignity of the Taiwanese people. The current atmosphere of “icy peace” is still sustainable, Nachman said. “How do we know? See: the last eight years of no war.”
The DPP loses its hold in Parliament
The DPP will need the support of its local political allies to govern effectively after losing its majority in Parliament. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) is now the biggest party with 52 seats to the DPP’s 51. It means that policies will now undergo “more scrutiny and pressure from lawmakers,” a senior fellow at Oxford’s Taiwan Studies program told Nikkei. KMT’s strong presence may also give Beijing a window into bypassing the central government and working directly with opposition members. “Such moves might undermine the optics and authority of Lai and his government,” Nikkei reported. Another question that observers are asking is whether Ko Wen-je’s TPP, which secured eight seats in parliament and has considerable leverage, will work with the KMT or DPP in deciding legislative priorities — or continue to blaze a trail for itself.
Elephant in the room: Lai didn’t win majority votes
Taiwan’s election system is designed so that a candidate who wins a plurality of the vote but not a majority still becomes president. In reality, however, a majority of Taiwanese voters indicated that they wanted a change in administration after eight years of DPP rule. “The most charitable reading of the bolded line is that nearly 60% of voters didn’t cast ballots for Lai,” wrote Nicholas Welch of China Talk, who argued that Ko, once touted to run on a joint ticket with the KMT, “was the real spoiler.” Even so, Ko, the former mayor of Taipei, outperformed expectations with just seven percentage points less than the KMT. The TPP’s future success will largely depend on how it performs in the legislature and “the values, policies, and ideals it proposes,” a fellow from Carnegie China told the BBC.