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Keeping the China card in check

Keeping the China card in check

It’s hard to spell a definite answer, but polls after polls have suggested that Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen will win hands down over her opponents in the upcoming presidential election on January 16.

In contrast to the elections of 1996, 2000, and 2004, there has been little saber-rattling from Beijing – other than the taunts Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai made during Tsai’s trip to the U.S., in which he criticized that the latter’s visit was a “job interview.”

It comes of no surprise to say the least, as most observers believed that this was because China has learned that any comments, especially in the form of threats, have been counterproductive.

But kudos to Tsai for keeping the China card in check, who has already moderated DPP’s stance on the status quo as part of her presidential campaign.

It was a smart move. After all, Taiwan's open declaration of independence from China depends on implicit support from Washington. There is no guarantee that if declared and a military crisis followed, the U.S. would be there to protect Taiwan.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who has repeatedly attacked Tsai over the subject of the status quo and the 1992 consensus, failed miserably to turn the tide in party popularity, as public support (exemplified through opinion polls) for the ruling Kuomintang and its presidential candidate Eric Chu continues to dwindle.

A recent poll conducted by the Taiwan Cross-Straits Policy Association last week gave Tsai and her running mate Chen Chien-jen 52.6 percent, the KMT ticket of Chu and Jennifer Wang 20.1 percent, and the combination of People First Party Chairman James Soong with Minkuotang Chairwoman Hsu Hsin-ying 9.2 percent.

Tsai’s election campaigns have so far been smooth sailing, and her popular support continues to supersede others – thanks in part to the incompetency of Ma and Chu, and people’s yearning for a political change.

It’s fair to say that the Chinese Nationalists Party has been struggling to overcome scandals, economic stagnation and wariness about the government’s push to expand trade ties with China, a policy many young Taiwanese believe has favored the nation’s business elites.

In short, with its recent loss in the nine-in-one elections in November last year, the KMT can only blame themselves for their own demise, who has so far demonstrated that they are only adept at funneling defamation remarks at Tsai in a desperate move to steal back votes.

But while Ma's stardom is on the wane, coupled with Chu’s two-bit performance as KMT chairman, Tsai would still need to play the China card safely even after she is elected.


Contrary to the 2000 and 2004 presidential tickets, the 2016 election is a completely new ball game. Back then, the debacle on Taiwan’s self-identity played out the most between the two opposing parties, as the island’s eligible voters yearned for a more pronounced Taiwanese identity, a request which then-elected president Chen Shui-bian managed to fulfill – as opposed to his pro-China KMT counterpart Lien Chan.

Although the issue on Taiwan ideology remains just as important during the ongoing election campaigns, the emphasis has been more or less about the local economy – given to KMT’s failure to improve the nation’s social welfare for the past eight years.

Disgruntled by Taiwan’s bleak future, the Sunflower Movement last year was a demand for more jobs and a more promising future for the nation’s young populace. Tsai, who promised a reform, must first win the support of the big business community while at the same time not ignore the wishes of small and medium businesses.

Since big business represents the interests of Taiwanese companies that make a large portion of their money in China, Tsai would need to continue her pragmatic China approach, and to concentrate her attention on improving the lives of the local populace with social and economic reforms. In short, she would also need to do better than Ma in all political aspects if she was to prove that the DPP is more capable than the KMT, as she has promised.

In other words, the message for Tsai and the DPP is clear – that is don't rock the boat. As every politician’s goal is to seek a re-election, Tsai would need to keep her China card in check for the next four years, and not just during the campaigns.

Updated : 2021-09-23 20:09 GMT+08:00