Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

DPP Primary Moves Forward, KMT Stalls, Defining the 2020 Presidential Election

After months of media frenzy, the ruling-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has—entirely through public opinion polls—elected to nominate the country’s incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, b. 1956), to serve as its candidate for the 2020 presidential election this coming January. President Tsai, who announced in February 2019 that she was seeking her party’s nomination for the opportunity to continue the job, was faced with an unexpected challenge within her own party’s primary by the former premier and mayor of Tainan city. With only seven months to go to the 2020 elections, the opposition party—which had resurrected in the November 2018 election—appear embroiled in an ongoing internal struggle between the anti-establishment candidates represented by the populist Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜, b. 1957) and business tycoon Terry Guo (郭台銘, b. 1950) against the party’s establishment candidates. Following the November 2018 election, in which economic issues dominated the election, it remains to be seen whether it will also become the defining issue of the 2020 elections.  

In a hotly contested primary that saw President Tsai edge out her opponent, Lai Ching-de (賴淸德, b. 1959), by a relatively comfortable 8.2 percent margin, belie the total uncertainty over whether the incumbent president wou6ld in fact win her own party’s nomination as the candidate for the 2020 president election. Indeed, opinion polls from multiple sources conducted earlier in the year suggested that the former premier, who supporters argue is more personable and in touch with the grassroot segments of the party, would be a more competitive candidate than the embattled president to face the resurgent opposition party and also fend off a potential hostile takeover from the independent Taipei mayor—who has yet to announce whether he will run for president.

In an impressive turn of events—ostensibly due in part to numerous delays in the primary process and a series of domestic and international events that have boosted the president’s popularity nationally—President Tsai has clinched her party’s nomination in an striking surge that saw her obtain an average support rate of 35.67 percent from five different polls conducted in a potential three-way race, whereas her primary opponent garnered 27.48 percent. Based on conditions agreed to by the two candidates, the poll also compared the popularity of the two candidates against the popularity of independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲, b. 1959) and Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT). When compared to Tsai, Ko and Han received support rates of 22.7 percent and 24.51 percent, respectively. When compared with Lai, Ko and Han garnered support ratings of 27.38 percent and 23.47 percent on average, respectively. Lai immediately conceded following the results were announced and urged for party unity.  

While the DPP appears to be moving ahead to the presidential race, the KMT is still entangled in an internal struggle between the popular anti-establishment candidates represented by the populist Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu and the business tycoon Terry Guo and the establishment candidates—which are struggling to get air time from the media in a crowded field dominated by the anti-establishment candidates. This stand-off came to a head in a drawn out and uncharacteristically open feud over the primary procedures, which has caused one of the establishment candidates to recently withdraw in protest. Wang Jin-pyng (王金平, b. 1941), the former legislative speaker, pulled out of the race ostensibly in protest to the special rules that had been adopted that bypass established procedures and made it possible to draft the Kaohsiung mayor, who remains the Party’s most popular candidate.

The Nationalist Party, which will also determine its presidential candidate through a combination of public opinion polls that will be conducted from July 8-14, is expected to announce its presidential candidate as early as July 15. Right now, Gou and Han are locked in a political duel that appears to have marginalized the establishment candidates represented by Eric Chu (朱立倫, b. 1961)—the party’s presidential candidate in the 2016 presidential election. The independent Taipei mayor—widely expected to run—is expected to announce whether he will run in August after the KMT has selected its presidential candidate.

While many variables in the 2020 presidential election remain unsettled, the decision of the DPP to select Tsai is a critical first step in the road to the 2020 elections. Following the ruling party’s trouncing defeat in the local elections in November 2019, which appear to have centered on economic issues, it raises the question of what are going to be the defining issues for the 2020 election.

As a signal of what those electoral issues may be, according to a recent poll conducted by Academia Sinica—the Taiwan government’s premier academic research institution—found that over 58.3 percent of Taiwan people believed that “national sovereignty” (國家主權)was more important than “economic interests” (經濟利益); whereas 31.3 percent felt that economic interests were more important than national sovereignty. The Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica has been conducting these surveys since 2013 and according to survey data there appears to have been a significant shift in the perceptions of Taiwan people over the years. According to the same survey in 2013, 55 percent of the respondents answered that economic interests were more important national sovereignty, whereas 39 percent thought that national sovereignty was more important. After 2015, the margins became more narrow; however, in 2017-18 the percentage of people who thought economic interests were more important surged to 56 percent. However, in the most recent survey conducted in March of this year indicated a nearly 20 percent increase that 58.3 percent thought that national sovereignty was more important.

According to Chen Chih-jou (陳志柔), deputy director of the Institute of Social Affairs of the Academia Sinica, the shift in public opinion after 2018 apparent from the survey may be attributed to CCP Chairman Xi Jinping’s tough talk on the “one country, two systems” during his 40th anniversary to the Taiwan Compatriots speech and ever increasing pressure campaign that have made the Taiwan people feel more threatened by China. Chen noted that the people’s sense of threat to sovereignty is stronger than before and after the Sunflower Movement in 2014, and the Taiwanese are no longer as illusory about the supposed promises of economic benefits. Against the backdrop of the Hong Kong political crisis over the controversial extradition law that scholars and activists argue represent the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems,” it appears that sovereignty may become a key feature of Taiwan’s 2020 elections.

The main point: Against the backdrop of the Hong Kong political crisis over the controversial extradition law that scholars and activists argue represent the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy over “one country, two systems,” it appears that sovereignty may become a key feature of Taiwan’s 2020 elections.

Correction: An earlier version the article incorrectly referred to a November 2019 election. It was in fact referring to the November 2018 local election.

Amid Ongoing US-China Trade War, 11th Straits Forum Kicks Off in Xiamen  

Amid the ongoing US-China trade war, the largest annual conference organized by private entities on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait—the 11th Straits Forum (海峽論壇)—kicked off in the Chinese city of Xiamen in Fujian province on June 15. The conference, scheduled to run from June 15 to 21, is billed by organizers as one of the top three cross-Strait exchanges that take place each year. Attended by thousands of participants from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the organizer says that this year reportedly had over 10,000 registered participants from Taiwan. Notable participants from the island-nation include Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權, b. 1947), the vice chairman of Taiwan’s main opposition party (Kuomintang, KMT) and Teng Chia-chi (鄧家基, b. 1956), vice mayor of Taipei city, among other participants from the country’s New Party, People’s First Party, and local officials. Senior Chinese participants include the chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Politburo Standing Committee Member, Wang Yang (汪洋), the director of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Liu Jieyi (劉結一), the party secretary of Fujian province, Yu Weiguo (于偉國, b. 1955), and the deputy director of TAO,  Fei Jinjia (斐金佳), among other people.

According to the forum organizer, first-time attendees from Taiwan accounted for 40 percent of the registrants and young people from the island accounted for 50 percent of those new registered attendees. The Straits Forum is one of multiple cross-Strait initiatives launched after 2008, when exchanges between the two sides began to expand in number and accelerate in intensity. Beginning in 2009, the annual forum has attracted the largest congregation of citizens from both sides of the Taiwan Strait at a single event to promote cross-Strait dialogue. The Straits Forum is always attended by senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which contradicts its supposed non-political orientation.

In his remarks, the chairman of the CPPCC, Wang Yang, reemphasized Xi Jinping’s speech at the 40th anniversary of the Message to Taiwan Compatriots and noted how the Straits Forum was first large-scale forum organized after the important speech. Underscoring the theme of the forum to expand cross-strait civic exchanges and deepen integrated development, Wang pointed out that the number of participants has reached a record high, which the senior CCP official said fully demonstrated the trendline for cross-strait economic exchange and integration, and how cultural ties of the people on the two sides of the Strait cannot be severed by any force.

Wang touted how the Chinese economy is moving towards high-quality development and openness and demands for high-quality products and services are increasing daily. Moreover, that cross-strait economic exchanges and integration will only increase and there are no reasons that that relationship should not to become closer and better. The Politburo Standing Committee Member in charge of United Front then want to emphasize that peaceful unification is the least costly option for the two sides of the Strait and reap the greatest benefits for the compatriots. Wang stated that cross-Strait negotiations must be based on adhering to the so-called “1992 Consensus” and opposing “Taiwan independence.” “We are willing to create a broad space for peaceful reunification, but we will never leave any room for ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities. Compatriots on both sides of the strait should join hands and share the great values ​​of the nation and resolutely oppose “Taiwan independence” and jointly protect the beautiful homeland,” Wang concluded.

Under the theme of “expanding civic exchanges, deepening integrated development” (擴大民間交流、深化融合發展), the forum focused on four areas: youth exchanges, grassroots exchange, cultural exchange, and economic exchanges with around 83 organizations involved in organizing the event. In a comprehensive program that covered the gamut of issues that ranged from the social to the political, the director of Fujian provincial government’s Taiwan Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office and deputy chairman of the Straits Forum organizing committee, Zhong Zhigang (鍾志剛), revealed new programs that were not so a-political, they included a new forum aimed at recruiting young talents from Taiwan. Moreover, the Cross-Strait Think Tank Forum also invited representatives from Taiwan to explore ways to promote the “new four links” (新四通) and “three-transformations” (三化) across the Taiwan Strait, and inserted a discussion on exploring cross-Strait energy cooperation and a feasibility plan for electricity transmission and sharing between the Taiwan-administered territories of Kinmen and Matsu with Fujian province.

Another panel within the forum, The Cross-Strait Customs Clearance Forum, explored the security and facilitation of customs clearance of advanced science and technology across the Taiwan Strait. Interestingly, this year’s Straits Forum appears to have had a heavy emphasis on promoting the concept of a “first home” (away from home) for Taiwanese companies and people in Fujian province. This initiative seems aimed at further refining the implementation of the “31 Measures” (卅一條惠台措施) and the “66 Implementation Opinions” (六十六條實施意見) of Fujian province and the “Implementation Opinions on Exploring the New Road for Cross-Strait Integration and Development” (探索海峽兩岸融合發展新路的實施意見) in Fujian province. Indeed, an apparent motto for this year’s conference of celebrating 10 years of the Straits Forum, called on youths from Taiwan to seize the opportunity to live the Chinese dream. Another consistent theme is the promotion of traditional Chinese culture and the forum held the “Cross-Strait Family, To Connect Heart to Heart from Youth” (兩岸一家親.從小心連心) Research and Experience Camp, among other cross-Strait cultural exchanges.

Fresh off the heels of a propaganda forum held in Beijing only a few weeks ago where major media outlets from Taiwan were invited to attend, the organizing committee of the Straits Forum announced that there are 42 Taiwanese sponsors that included several major media outlets from Taiwan: Want Want China Times Media Group (旺旺中時媒體集團), United Daily News (聯合報), TVBS Media Inc. (TVBS聯利媒體公司), Eastern Broadcasting Company (東森電視) and Taiwan Eastern Broadcasting New Media Company (台灣東森新媒體公司). The Taiwan News (台灣新聞報) and NOWNews (今日新聞網) are listed as support media for Taiwan. According to media reports, National Taiwan University (台灣大學) and Shih Hsin University (世新大學), which were previously listed as sponsors, are no longer listed.

With the upcoming Taipei-Shanghai Forum to be held in Shanghai, there are many scheduled activities in 2020 aimed at promoting cross-Strait interactions. The Taiwan government, increasingly concerned by these CCP United Front activities, has tried to discourage people to attend this year’s conference. With the 2020 elections right around the corner, the CCP appears to be intensifying its United Front activities against Taiwan.

The main point: Amid the ongoing US-China trade war, the 11th Straits Forum kicked off in the Chinese city of Xiamen in Fujian province on June 15. With the 2020 elections right around the corner, the CCP appears to be intensifying its United Front activities against Taiwan. Time will tell if it will have any effects.