Taiwan 2024 Presidential Elections
Does Lai’s election represent an important shift from the past? Is the clock really ticking for Taiwan? Why there is no immediate risk of war
About the elections
The 2024 presidential elections terminated on the 13th of January 2024. Lai Ching-Te of the Democratic Progressive Party won with the 40% of the votes, defeating Hou Yu-Ih and Ko Wen-Je. The former opponent represented the Kuomintang Party, pushing for improved relations with China. The latter, founder of the Taiwan’s People Party, centred his campaign on domestic issues such as housing and unemployment instead of relations with the mainland.
Many argue that Lai’s victory will change Taiwan’s status in the region by intensifying tensions with China, due to the negative image that Beijing holds of him as an “instigator of war”. I wonder, however, if the results of these elections will truly produce the above-stated severe results.
Does Lai’s election represent an important shift from the past?
Lai centred his election campaign on the refusal to cede to China’s claims regarding the One-China project. This led Beijing to warn Taiwanese voters not to choose him to avoid severe consequences. This episode does not entail, however, that the results of these elections will create an immediate threat to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. It is true that Lai is a member of the same party of the outgoing President Tsai Ing-Wen and, has publicly claimed to continue her policies, leading to growing concerns in the mainland. Tsai’s policies have previously deteriorated the relationship between the two, with Xi Jing Pin announcing a suspension of official communications with the Island. Although China will continue its mission to increase economic and military pressures on Taiwan, this does not immediately raise a concern for war. There are, in fact, several important aspects that China must consider when choosing its approach to Taiwan.
Why there is no immediate risk of war
Maintaining a peaceful relationship is vital to both parties. Despite having different political views, the countries possess undeniably strong economic ties. First, China remains Taiwan’s biggest trading partner. Even amid the rising tensions, in fact, trade ties have strengthened reaching a record-high of 267.8 billion US dollars in 2023. China has benefitted from this relationship as well through major investments in its economy on the part of Taiwanese people, which reached a total of 203.33 billion dollars in 2022. Second, China must consider the issue of semiconductors when considering relations with its neighbour. The country, in fact, imports 36% of this material central to the production of every-day life goods from Taiwan, which is the biggest producer in the world. Despite the fall of chip imports in China recorded in 2003, Taiwan still holds a significant share that cannot be replaced by Chinese factories, as Chinese efforts to create comparable semiconductors have been unsuccessful.
Risk of confrontation with the United States
The second major problem is Taiwan’s close relationship with the Americans and their allies in the region. An attack on Taiwan would create a daunting prospect of confrontation with the United States, which China cannot sustain. It is indeed true that Beijing is rapidly increasing its military spendings, but it is far from equalling that of the United States. Solely in 2022, the American government spent 877 billion dollars on its defence while the Chinese side “solely” 292 billion. This already enormous difference, coupled with the support that the United States would receive from its allies in the region creates a worrying prospect for China. A further problem is represented by the fact that Beijing possesses a strong military apparatus but does not have the ability to use its properly. The control of its resources is scattered among different entities and a centralised control, like the one possessed by the United States, is totally missing at the moment. This would make it considerably hard for China to gather the power that it needs to counter the Americans in the region and should be considered as a convincing reason to avoid war in the near future.