Expert background: Dr. LI Mingjiang – a leading expert on US-China relations
Dr. LI Mingjiang is an Associate Professor and Provost’s Chair in International Relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is the Coordinator of the PhD Programme and Deputy Head of Graduate Studies at RSIS and Deputy Chair of the NTU 8th Senate. LI received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Boston University. His main research interests include Chinese foreign policy, China-ASEAN relations, Sino-U.S. relations, global governance, and Asia-Pacific security. LI is the author of several books, among them China’s Economic Statecraft (World Scientific, 2017) and New Dynamics in US-China Relations: Contending for the Asia Pacific (lead editor, Routledge, 2014).
CMG: With a few days left to Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections, what importance do these 2024 elections have for Cross-Strait relations and the broader geopolitical context?
Each time when there is a major election in Taiwan, mainland China and Cross-Strait relations would inevitably be part of the political justling among different candidates. These political contestations and the main political forces’ move towards the political centre help consolidate the identity of the Taiwanese people on the island.
Also, any major election in Taiwan helps contextualize the political and ideological differences between the island and mainland China. This basically means that each election in Taiwan helps consolidate the de facto separation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The January 2024 election is particularly important for Cross-Strait relations for three reasons.
First, the “Taiwan issue” has increasingly become part of US-China strategic rivalry in recent years. Second, Cross-Strait relations have been stalled in the past 8 years under the DPP administration. If the DPP candidate wins the election, Cross-Strait relations may continue to be “cold” for a few more years. Third, mainland China is increasingly interested in a unification agenda. Any major policy change from Taiwan or the US after the election, if perceived by Beijing as negative, may lead to very assertive policy response by mainland China.
To what extent will the election outcome change the island’s political landscape?
If Lai Ching-te wins the election, the DPP’s political influence in Taiwan may further grow in the coming years, which makes it more difficult for the KMT to challenge the DPP in the near future. If the KMT candidate wins, on the other hand, it’s likely that politics on the island will continue to be contested by the two major political parties, the KMT and the DPP; and the TPP’s influence will decrease.
It will certainly be interesting to see how many votes Ko Wen-je, the TPP’s candidate, will be able to get. This will, to some extent, decide whether the TPP will continue to serve as a significant third political party or will be marginalized.
How do you expect the various key actors – namely Beijing, Washington, Brussels and Japan – to respond, and what will this mean for cross-Strait stability and US-China relations?
If the DPP wins the election, Beijing will most likely send out critical messages against the new government in Taiwan and perhaps some warnings to the US and urge Washington to be cautious on the “Taiwan issue”.
If the KMT wins, Beijing may show its goodwill and call for improvement in Cross-Strait relations. Washington, Brussels and Japan, no matter what result at the end of the election in Taiwan, will say good things about democracy on the island and may call for policies and actions conducive for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.