Taiwan’s 2020 election: consequences for Beijing

International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
Date: 24th January 2020

The re-election of Taiwan’s incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen is a boost to the island nation’s democratic identity, and significantly complicates China’s Taiwan policy, writes Meia Nouwens.

President Tsai's election victory will not have come as a surprise to anyone watching the lead up to the vote. A total of 8 million Taiwanese cast their ballots for Tsai, delivering her 57% of the vote. Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang Party (KMT), meanwhile, trailed her with just 38.6%.

Tsai’s campaign was aided by both internal and external factors. Internally, the lack of a credible opposition helped keep Tsai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in power during the first four difficult years of her presidency. Although the KMT regained some power in 2018 through local election victories and enjoyed renewed momentum with the rise of a populist presidential candidate in Han Kuo-yu, the KMT’s messages did not resonate with younger voters. It failed to reform after its 2016 loss in order to address this, a point echoed by KMT vice-chairman Hau Lung-bin, who stepped down on after the election, along with KMT chairman Wu Den-yih and other top leaders. Hau questioned ‘what path can our party take now? Besides destroying everything and rebuilding what other path do we have? This is the only choice for us to hope to emerge from the ruins!’

Alongside the KMT’s internal problems, the DPP pursued policies to strengthen economic growth. Year-on-year real GDP rose to 2.4% in 2019 Q2. Despite potentially slower export growth due to international trade conflicts and weaker global demand for mobile devices, Taiwan’s outlook for 2020 remains positive. In particular, the continued investment of semiconductor manufacturing and reshoring of Taiwanese companies is likely to support export growth in the year ahead, with GDP growth forecast to rise to around 2.7% by Taiwan’s Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics. Tsai has vowed to maintain this momentum as part of her election victory.

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