Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election: U.S. propaganda of ‘independence’ must be rejected

Photo: Lai Ching-te attends a Taiwanese banquet in San Francisco in 2023. Credit: Shufu Liu/Office of the President (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

This past Saturday, Jan. 13, Taiwan held its 2024 general elections, which included its presidential election. Current Vice President Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the election, which continues the DPP’s hold of the presidency of Taiwan for a third term.

What is more notable, however, is that Lai and the DPP did not win a majority of the votes in this victory — he and the DPP only won a plurality with 40.05% of the votes in a contested three-way race. Hou Yu-ih won 33.49% of the vote as the candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT), the principal rival of the DPP. Impressively, Ko Wen-je won 26.46% as the candidate and founder of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a party formed only in 2019 and contending in the presidential election for the first time. This result is the first time in two decades since the 2000 election that the winning candidate failed to secure a majority.

A presidential race between three parties each securing at least a quarter of the vote would be unheard of in the United States. Importantly, this result indicates a diversity of political opinions and stances among Taiwan’s electorate, which stands in stark contrast to the narrative that is propagated by the U.S. ruling class. This one-dimensional narrative paints a caricature of the people of Taiwan as monolithic in their political beliefs and universally desperate for the United States to save them from the “tyranny” of China and liberate them in a fight for independence. Western media was quick to frame the election of Lai as a defiant rebuff of China by Taiwan, which flattens the nuanced and shifting political landscape of its populace. 

Diversity of political opinions within Taiwan

The DPP and its party platform represent one extreme pole of this landscape regarding Taiwan’s relationship with China, espousing the establishment of Taiwan as a sovereign and independent state. Although the KMT does not represent the other pole of unification with China, which is supported by parties such as the socialist Labor Party, it nonetheless represents a contrast to the DPP by generally supporting closer relations and collaboration with China. The TPP seeks to position itself somewhere in the center of the two major rivals, criticizing the DPP for being too antagonistic to China and dependent on foreign support from the United States and Japan while claiming that the KMT’s approach is too appeasing to China. The rebuff reflected in this election that is actually worth mentioning is the rejection of the DPP and its extreme, separatist platform — the combined votes of the KMT and TPP amount to roughly 60% to the DPP’s 40%. In fact, the KMT and TPP had even planned to run together on a joint ticket until their agreement fell apart in November 2023. It remains to be seen whether they will try again to pursue a united front in the future, but for now, it is clear that there is a strong desire among the people of Taiwan for an alternative to the stance of the DPP.

The diversity of opinion and changing internal debate within Taiwan about its relations with China is further reflected in the other noteworthy result of the 2024 general elections — that while the DPP won the presidency, it lost its majority in Taiwan’s legislature by losing 11 seats. The KMT will have 52 seats to the DPP’s 51 in the Legislative Yuan, which will set the stage for division, conflict and compromise. Two of the remaining 10 seats went to independent politicians who lean closer to the KMT, and here in the arena of the legislature, the TPP yet again made waves by winning the other eight seats. This places the TPP in a powerful and unique position to sway lawmaking by supporting or blocking legislation as a tiebreaker.

Although the new TPP does not represent a leftist program for Taiwan, it is important to highlight that a contributor to its quick rise comes from its support from young voters under 40 years old. Not only are these voters attracted to the TPP’s pragmatism and lack of ideological dogmatism that the decades-old KMT and DPP duopolistic rivalry embodies, but they also identify with the TPP’s focus on addressing domestic issues such as economic inequality, affordable housing and political corruption. Therefore, the increasing popularity of the TPP among the youth signals a new trend of young people in Taiwan who are tired of the political squabbling over relations with China and instead want to focus on solving the material challenges impacting their daily lives.

Long-running survey data gathered by the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University also illustrates the varied and changing views of Taiwan’s people on the question of establishing independence from China. Although the sentiment for moving toward independence did reach an all-time high in 2020 during the election of the current DPP president Tsai Ing-wen, it has since proceeded to plummet by 17% to the latest level in 2023. At the same time as that decrease, the sentiment for maintaining the current status quo of relations with China indefinitely without seeking independence skyrocketed by over 25% to become the highest-ranked opinion in 2023. In second place was the position of maintaining the current status quo and deciding on unification later in the future, which has otherwise been the overwhelmingly most popular opinion in Taiwan since 1994. The extreme view of establishing independence as soon as possible has never surpassed 7.8% in this multi-decade survey, and the latest data in 2023 places it at a low 4.5%. Although the stance of unification with China as soon as possible has historically always been the least popular opinion, the position of maintaining the status quo with a move toward unification has had more support over the years, spiking to 12.8% as recently as 2018. This data displays recent shifts in public opinion, but it also communicates a clear message that pushing for independence has never been the most popular belief of Taiwan’s people and that the top two opinions for decades have predominantly been for maintaining the status quo in the near term and being potentially open to unification in the future.

Narrative of Taiwan independence only serves U.S. ruling class

The false and warmongering propaganda of Taiwan’s people yearning for independence only benefits the U.S. ruling class and its military-industrial complex. U.S. government officials such as President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken only pay lip service to the One China Policy because the United States would otherwise not even be able to have diplomatic relations with China. Meanwhile, the United States maneuvers to prop up Taiwan to serve its own interests as a pawn and destabilizing force against its economic and political rival China. Ever since 1979, the United States has sold over $14 billion worth of military equipment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. Just last year, however, Biden made an unprecedented move of aggression by approving $80 million to come from U.S. taxpayers to directly fund Taiwan’s military purchasing under the foreign military finance program. The United States has used the FMF to fund its war interests in Israel, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq, but it had never used it to support any entity that is not even recognized as a sovereign nation by the United Nations. This break will likely only be the beginning of the United States using the FMF to funnel taxpayer money into Taiwan, and it shows the U.S.’s true attitude on Taiwan despite its claims to the contrary.

It is imperative for the working class in the United States reject the narrative of Taiwan’s move toward independence because it is contrary to the reality of its people’s varied political views and because it only provides justification for fueling U.S. imperialism and its drive for war.

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