Han Kuo-Yu, A Beijing-Friendly Populist, Might Still Win Taiwan 2020

Taiwanese people recoil when they hear "China." But Han Kuo-yu, a China-conciliatory presidential candidate, hopes to charm them nonetheless.

Date: November 19, 2019
By: Ralph Jennings

Opinion polls tip Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) to win a second term in office in large part because of her tough stance on China, to the point of backing anti-Beijing demonstrations in Hong Kong. Han Kuo-yu (韩国瑜 Hán Guóyú), her chief opponent in the forthcoming January 11 election, embraces closer relations with Beijing, including a resumption of formal talks that China severed under Tsai. Could he possibly win?

Han hit a public opinion stride last year when he won the mayoral race in a southern city where voters normally prefer Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party party. His populist, get-things-done appeal — accentuated by a shiny bald head and blue work shirts with sleeves rolled up to the elbows — gave him street creds. He won the Nationalist Party’s presidential nomination in July.

But his willingness to engage China as Hong Kong protesters keep clashing with police stands to hurt him, political scholars say. China hopes someday to rule Taiwan as it governs Hong Kong now. Tsai was leading by 49 percent to 40 percent as of November 4, coming back from 44 percent to Han’s 48 percent in July, Taiwan’s TVBS News found in a poll.

Han gave a media briefing last Thursday — the first one with foreign media in Taiwan — in which he spoke extensively about China. Here are four takeaways — and how his comments might help him in the upcominig elections.

1. Support the “1992 Consensus”

This is China’s chief condition to get along with Taiwan on any level. The consensus refers to an informal understanding that each side will call itself “China,” subject to different ideas about what the term means. For Taiwan, it would mean the government’s constitutional name Republic of China. Beijing sees it as the People’s Republic of China.

Beijing rejects the term “Taiwan” as a replacement because it implies separation from China rather than a move toward its goal of unification. The two sides have been ruled separately since the Republic of China lost the Chinese Civil War and retreated to Taiwan in December 1949.

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