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Chinese Soft Power is Collapsing in Taiwan

Walter Russell Mead

Fearing a wipeout in the next election, Taiwan’s pro-Beijing Kuomintang (KMT) party has dumped its presidential candidate and picked another, according to the New York Times:

The party chose its chairman, Eric Chu, the mayor of New Taipei City, as its new presidential candidate at a special party congress. He replaced Hung Hsiu-chu, who in polls has badly trailed Tsai Ing-wen, the nominee of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, and even at times polled behind a third-party candidate.

The combination of a harsher Chinese foreign policy stance and Beijing’s internal crackdown have seriously weakened support for the KMT in Taiwan. Ironically, the KMT, the party founded by Chiang Kai Shek that fought and lost a brutal civil war against Mao’s communists, is now the pro-Beijing party in Taiwan because the KMT believes that Taiwan and the mainland are one country that must some day be reunited.

Many Taiwanese are not so sure. Taiwan was only loosely associated with the mainland for much of modern history, and between the years in which it was a Japanese colony and the 75 years since the Chinese civil war it has developed in a very different direction than Beijing has. The more threatening and unpleasant the mainland looks, the more Taiwan voters fear a closer embrace with Beijing—and these days, mainland China isn’t looking very attractive. The KMT is worried about a massive electoral defeat, which is why it has replaced an unpopular candidate seen as too pro-China.

If the DPP wins the election, many in the region and in the U.S. will worry that an angry Beijing leadership will respond to the setback in ways that raise tensions — or that the DPP, “dizzy with success”, will embark on a quest for international recognition that creates a crisis in cross-Straits relations.

Certainly the DPP is likely to enjoy close relations with Japan. As we noted, its presidential candidate visited Tokyo last week. But whatever happens in Taiwanese politics, the U.S. will stick with the “one China, no drama” policy that goes back to the Nixon administration. In 1979, the U.S. recognized the PRC in Beijing as the legal government of China and withdrew diplomatic recognition of Taipei and the KMT. However, the U.S. reserved the right to sell arms to Taipei, and continues to oppose any change in the status quo, whether initiated by Beijing in the form of an invasion of the island, or by Taipei in the form of a declaration of independence.

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