By Ruth Wetters, BA Chinese (Modern & Classical)
Last week, the incumbent Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected with a 58% vote share for the Democratic Progressive Party, running on a platform of freedom from Chinese aggression. In her acceptance speech, Tsai stated unequivocally that ‘democratic Taiwan, and our democratically-elected government, will not concede to threats and intimidation.’
Taiwan is increasingly isolated on the world stage by the one China policy, with only a handful of small states officially recognising its independence. Despite this, it has been a beacon of progressive values in Asia, becoming the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage in May of last year. President Tsai’s election in 2016 has shown that the majority of Taiwanese people support these reforms.
But the defining issue of this election came from another quarter. Neighbouring Hong Kong has been battered by seven months of continuous protests against an unpopular extradition bill, since withdrawn, which became a conduit for dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. Although Hong Kong and Taiwan are in very different situations, they share a commitment to democracy, a young demographic, and more liberal values than those of the mainland. The “one China, two systems” policy which forms the basis of Hong Kong governance has been floated as a potential strategy in managing a Taiwan under Chinese rule. The fact that voters have roundly rejected CCP money and aggression should serve as an example to potential Chinese allies in the fight against authoritarianism and human rights abuses.
Whilst the battle for democracy rages in Asia, from Europe it looks almost as if the opposite is happening. Elections across Europe are swinging towards larger representations for parties with less respect for democracy, equality and human rights. Perhaps we have taken these privileges for granted for too long, and are no longer aware of their significance. This could be a costly mistake for us, as China is increasingly involved in the world economy. The many countries who have already clashed with the CCP know the strength of their enemy, but economic self-interest in the West is likely to overrule these voices.
Hong Kong people have fought for democracy for half a year – over one third of the population is now estimated to suffer from PTSD as a result of sustained police brutality and erosion of safety in public spaces – and although their fight may be doomed, they hold the line against China on behalf of and in solidarity with others such as the Uighur Muslims interned in Xinjiang. Despite this bravery, they have been abandoned by the UK. The US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was also helpful.
Taiwan’s election result shows a full and awful knowledge of the damage that China can do to its enemies: we would do well to pay attention.