Taiwanese are scheduled to take to the electoral stage on Saturday to elect a new president. Although the country's population is only 23.5 million, the elections will attract a great deal of international attention – especially from the United States and China – due to the contested political situation. The results will also help determine how the difficult relationship between Beijing and Washington will develop and whether tensions in the region will increase further or whether there will be a de-escalation.
Taiwan has enjoyed independent and democratic rule since 1949, but Beijing still considers the island a rebellious province. As far as President Xi Jinping is concerned, Taiwan will one day join China again. If necessary, force will be used. On the other hand, the United States is an ally of Taiwan, and has already warned China against taking “provocative” measures in the wake of the crucial elections.
Therefore, it is not surprising that observers in China and the United States are eagerly awaiting the election results. The key question here is whether voters will choose the more conservative, pro-China Kuomintang Party, or the pro-US Democratic Progressive Party, which has been in power for the past eight years.
No polls were allowed to be published in the last 10 days leading up to the vote, but according to exit polls dating back to last week, incumbent Vice President William Lay will be in the lead, albeit by a small margin. Lai supports Taiwan independence and also wants to strengthen relations with the United States, Europe and other democracies. His main rival, Hu Yu-ae of the Kuomintang, wants to defend democracy in Taiwan, but does not want to declare independence.
There is also the smaller Taiwan People's Party, which falls somewhere in the middle and sends Ko Wen-jie into the race. He sees Taiwan as a bridge between China and the United States and envisions a more diplomatic approach to the relationship. The winner of the election will succeed incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, who came to power in 2016 and has reached her two-term maximum.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is anxiously awaiting Beijing's response if the Democratic Progressive Party – which China views as an arch enemy – wins. A new regional conflict involving an island where more than 90% of the world's advanced microchips – vital for a range of products from iPhones to electric cars – are produced is an absolute nightmare scenario. The strait between China and Taiwan – the Taiwan Strait – is one of the world's most important trade routes, and according to estimates, about 48 percent of all container ships pass through it. The conflict would disrupt supply chains and cause severe damage to the global economy.
Meanwhile, Western and Taiwanese experts do not immediately expect war to break out in 2024. The Chinese economy is currently performing poorly, and an invasion by sea would be very difficult and very expensive. Beijing may also be waiting for the US presidential election in November. It remains to be seen whether the potential government of Donald Trump's Republican Party would support Taiwan in the event of an attack.
Taiwan is also scheduled to elect a new parliament on Saturday. So far, the Progressive Democratic Party has an absolute majority in that body. The results may be known by Sunday evening local time.
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