Beijing is keeping a close eye on Taiwan ahead of the island’s elections next year when a defeat of the ruling Kuomintang party (KMT) could radically shift the balance of power.
The KMT party has been easing relations with China, which continues seeking unification as a priority. However, the party’s popularity has been declining since 2012.
A KMT defeat to the opposing Democratic Progressive party (DPP) could sour Taiwan’s relations with China, especially if it loses its majority in Parliament.
Further complicating situations, the KMT’s presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu is expected to be replaced this weekend by party chairman Eric Chu during a special Congress. Polls show that shift is unlikely to prevent a KMT defeat.
Taiwan’s sitting President Ma Ying-jeou this month used a National Day address to warn of the dangers that could arise if a new government, alluding to the DPP, mismanages the “turmoil in the Taiwan strait.”
The rise in the DPP’s popularity can be linked to its commitment to the status quo, which polls show most Taiwanese are in favor of.
That status-quo reflects the Taiwanese phrase of the “three no’s”: no to reunification, no to independence, and no to the use of force in the Taiwan straits.
The KMT, however, has raised fears among the electorate that reunification is possible in the near future.
Twenty one agreements on trade and investment have been reached with China. Now, Taiwanese from 10 cities can fly to 71 in China. Businessmen, students and tourists are now going back and forth in unprecedented numbers, according to the Guardian.
Although these measures were initially welcomed, fear quickly spread that relations were getting to close to unification. This was especially real among a younger radical generation which went as far as to occupy parliament in 2014 as part of the anti-China Sunflower Movement.
“The basic question before voters in Taiwan is not what kind of country they want to become in the future but whether they will still exist as a country, or at least as a unique and separate place, in that future, writes Martin Wollacott, a former foreign correspondent for the Guardian.”