In the run-up to the election on Saturday (Jan 13), China placed restrictions on Taiwan exports of petroleum products to the mainland covered by the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement to increase pressure.
Alongside these developments were continuing Chinese military activity near Taiwan, including the launch of a satellite and at least several surveillance balloons. There was also alleged pressure on tycoon Terry Kuo to withdraw his candidacy in the presidential race to force an electoral alliance between the TPP and KMT, which came on top of alleged efforts to discredit the DPP on social media.
Such activity was a continuation of developments from before the election campaign period. They combined to create a sense that pressure from China is a constant rather than a variable. This normalisation of the challenge from Beijing reduced the electoral effects of pressure from China.
NEUTRALISATION OF CHINA AS AN ISSUE
A third related observation is that the neutralisation of China as an issue in Taiwan’s electoral politics may point to a shift in Taiwan political landscape. The KMT’s performance in the legislative election was led largely by its local factions, which focus on service delivery and constituency issues.
DPP and TPP supporters tend to identify more with Taiwan and feel more distant from China, even if this translates into different substantive policy preferences. Chinese political pressure and economic uncertainty are further accelerating Taiwanese businesses’ relocation and diversification from China, which is consistent with broader global trends.
Taiwan foreign direct investment (FDI) to Southeast Asia has been growing in recent years and outstripped FDI to China in 2023. These trends mean that direct pro-Beijing appeals may be facing a diminishing market in Taiwan politics.
For the KMT, which has been a key bridge to Taiwan for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they may need to decide if they want to continue being the Chinese Nationalist Party or a party for Taiwanese.