On Friday, January 27, the Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific at the Hoover Institution had the privilege of hosting Taiwan's representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao (蕭美琴). Amb. Hsiao joined students, faculty, and staff for a 90-minute conversation and Q&A session. The event recording is now available on the project website, and below.
About the Speaker
Bi-khim Hsiao assumed her position as Taiwan’s Representative to the United States in July 2020, after serving as a Senior Adviser to the President at the National Security Council of Taiwan. Representative Hsiao previously served four terms in the Taiwan Legislature, representing overseas citizens for the first term, and then the constituents of Taipei City and Hualien County through different terms. For many years she was ranking member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and previously the chair of the USA Caucus in the Legislative Yuan.
Taiwan's 2022 local elections are now exactly four weeks away, on Saturday, November 26. In August I did a detailed breakdown of all the city and county executive races, which you can find here:
Part 1. The Six Special Municipalities
Part 2. North and Central Taiwan
Part 3. The South, East, and Offshore Islands
Part 4. Concluding Thoughts
I've been sporadically adding news updates and polling results to those pages, but I thought it'd be worth taking a more holistic view now that we're a month away, and raise a few questions to keep an eye on the last month of the campaign.
First, the big takeaway: this is looking more and more like a bad election cycle for the DPP.
Here's my updated ratings for each race as of October 29:
What's Going on in the Special Municipalities?
In the highest profile races in the special municipality, DPP candidates are down at least 10 points (and probably 20) in both New Taipei (Lin Chia-lung) and Taichung (Tsai Chi-chang). I've been especially surprised by how well incumbent mayor Lu Shiow-yen in Taichung is polling. I figured she would struggle a bit but instead recent polling shows her to be leading by 20 points, and she is in high demand to campaign for other KMT candidates down ballot. It would take something truly extraordinary to shake this race up now.
In Taoyuan, the candidate switcheroo and split has left the party's official nominee, Cheng Yun-peng, trailing the KMT's Simon Chang in most polls too.
Taipei is the marquee race of this cycle, with three high-profile candidates and saturation coverage of the campaign. It's close, but even there polls keep showing Chiang Wan-an with an edge over the DPP's Chen Shih-chung and independent candidate Huang Shan-shan. Chiang appears to have consolidated 85% of the pan-blue vote behind him, while Chen is at only 70% of the pan-green vote. Huang Shan-shan is pulling as much support from green-leaning as blue-leaning voters, and that may be enough to give Chiang the win. Chen's efforts to nationalize the race and make it about cross-Strait relations or China do not seem to be having much effect so far.
Is the DPP Really Struggling This Badly?
Given recent polling, one can easily imagine the DPP only winning four local executive races. (Keep in mind they currently hold seven, and that's after the disastrous 2018 election cycle.) There's still time for public opinion to shift, but right now the DPP looks like it's in danger of losing all four of the competitive special municipality races. The party's candidates are also struggling elsewhere in places where they have very winnable races, in Yilan, Keelung, and Hsinchu. And they don't seem to be primed for an upset anywhere else; the KMT's incumbents in Chiayi City, Changhua, Yunlin, Taitung and Hualien are all polling well ahead of their challengers. The DPP's best chance at an unexpected pickup might be Penghu, where there are now two KMT members (one the mayor of the largest city, the other the incumbent) in the race. Then there's the crazy colorful Miaoli race, which Donovan Courtney Smith has described in great detail. The DPP might have a chance there in what's normally one of the bluest counties in Taiwan...except the NPP is also running a candidate and threatening to split the anti-KMT vote. So far the DPP just can't catch a break this cycle.
Is Tsai Ing-wen in Trouble?
Put it all together and it looks like Tsai Ing-wen's grip on the party chair might be in trouble again. If we take into account the DPP's large national polling lead, the partisan lean of the counties, and the fact that incumbents are hard to beat, the party's candidates should be competitive at least in Taipei and Taoyuan (both open seat contests), Keelung (open seat) and Yilan (wounded KMT incumbent), Hsinchu City (open seat), and perhaps Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi City (all green-leaning counties). If the party can't win any of those races, that's a really bad performance, and there will be a lot of pressure on Tsai to resign as party leader to take responsibility. She's been directly involved in picking the nominees for these races, and she can't easily deflect blame if they fail everywhere.
Is the KMT Actually Primed for a Comeback...Again?
On the flip side, KMT party chairman Eric Chu may end up a big winner here after all. He said back in August that his goal was to win four of the six special municipalities; it seemed to me like a stretch at the time, but it looks plausible now. The party has had some nomination screw-ups and splits, most prominently in Taoyuan and Miaoli but also Keelung, Penghu and Kinmen. But even if the KMT loses a couple of these races to independents (or the TPP in Hsinchu City), Chu will still come out looking pretty good if they take four special municipalities. And the KMT might be better-positioned than expected to compete in 2024.
Will Cross-Strait Relations Matter?
Finally, a note about the 20th Party Congress: I thought this week of CCP pageantry and propaganda might affect the race, since it was held in the thick of the election campaigns. But there wasn't a whole lot new on Taiwan coming out of the Congress, and polls aren't showing much of an impact. Tsai Ing-wen's personal approval rating does seem to have gotten a bounce in October--we'll see if that lasts, or more importantly, influences the local contests in the last month. Notably, several DPP candidates including Chen Shih-chung in Taipei have tried to tie their races to cross-Strait issues, without much success so far.
Plagiarism: What Is It?
For the rest of this preview, see: Part I. Part II. Part III.
Summing up, here's the ratings as of August 16:
By way of conclusion, here are five observations on the 2022 local elections three months out:
1. The KMT is down but not out. There is now a frequent refrain among outside observers that the KMT is just hopelessly disorganized and dysfunctional and cannot mount a serious challenge to the DPP anymore, until and unless it changes its position on cross-Strait relations. Maybe. But going through race by race here suggests the party's candidates are still very competitive in local elections. By my own count, I have the KMT nominee favored right now to win in 16 of 22 localities -- that's more than they control today.
Perhaps I'm being too generous to the blue camp here -- and after adding the numbers up I'm feeling a wee bit uncomfortable with how lopsided they are -- but one can at least make a reasonable case that the KMT will hold a majority of local executives after these elections, IF (big if) the national environment doesn't turn against it. Despite a rough few years, the party still has significant residual strength at the local level, and reports of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.
2. HOWEVA, there is a lot of downside risk for the KMT. Since 2014, all local elections in Taiwan have been held concurrently. As a result, outcomes across races have been more correlated than they used to be. The last two election cycles have produced big swings against the party in power: in 2014, President Ma Ying-jeou's approval ratings were under 20 percent, and the DPP flipped seven counties and cities as part of an anti-KMT wave election. In 2018, Tsai's ratings were under 30 percent, and the KMT swept all the competitive races except for Taipei, where Mayor Ko barely hung on.
In this election cycle, the KMT is playing defense: they hold 14 of the 22 local posts and will do well just to keep that number. More than six years into her presidency, Tsai Ing-wen has defied the second-term curse and her approval ratings have been positive for most of the last two years. The KMT's party ID numbers have fallen far behind the DPP (the latest NCCU/ESC polls have DPP identifiers at 31% of respondents, and the KMT at a record-low 14%.) And US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in early August has triggered an extended round of military exercises and bellicose rhetoric from Beijing that has put the KMT on the defensive again. As the "China-friendly" party in Taiwan, the KMT has traditionally suffered politically when the salience of the threat from the PRC increases. (This is arguably a big part of the reason Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected in 2020.)
It's possible that a natural disaster, a worsening COVID situation, a new government scandal or two, or just a general weariness with the DPP could drag down the central government's popularity over the next three months. But if Beijing's military exercises and pressure campaign on Taiwanese agricultural products continue, they are likely to help the DPP and hurt the KMT. In addition, the CCP's 20th Party Congress will likely happen sometime in November [update 8.30: it will begin earlier, on Oct 16], where expectations are that Xi Jinping will be confirmed for a third term as General Party Secretary. Not since 1992 has this meeting been held around the same time as a major Taiwanese election (the 14th Party Congress was 12-18 October, and the LY election was 19 December), and, depending on what is said about Taiwan there, it has the potential to trigger another public opinion backlash in Taiwan against the PRC, much like Xi Jinping's January 2, 2019 speech to "Taiwan compatriots" led to a rebound in Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings.
So, despite having a strong slate of candidates for local office, the KMT could easily lose most of the competitive races if the salience of cross-Strait relations remains high through the fall.
3. Nominations are half the battle. Both major parties moved away from the polling primaries method they've used in the past to select nominees, and instead empowered the chair to "negotiate" or hand-pick nominees in most races. The DPP has done this a lot during the Tsai Ing-wen era; one of her political gifts is effectively managing the intra-party fights over offices and spoils in a way that keeps everyone onside. She's mostly succeeded at that again here, although the party's slate of nominees as a whole seems rather underwhelming to me. Despite their recent success at the national level, the DPP still doesn't have a deep bench of local politicians who have built up grass-roots networks and can play the factional game as well as the KMT. And in places like Chiayi, Yunlin, or Changhua, winning that game can still be decisive.
On the KMT side, Eric Chu had a couple well-publicized nomination fiascos in Taoyuan and Miaoli. But in most of the other races, the party has recruited well. Chu's task has been made easier by having incumbents to renominate in many races, which has helped head off the kind of factional squabbling that has bedeviled the party in the past. It's especially notable that with popular mayors running again in Chiayi City, Changhua, and Yunlin, the KMT is well-positioned to hold on in several jurisdictions that have become reliably "green" in national elections.
Both major parties still face threats in several races from spoiler candidates from the minor parties, the NPP and TPP. The NPP is now firmly in the pan-green camp, and the presence of its nominees will almost certainly hurt the DPP more, as they did in the 2020 legislative elections. The TPP is new to local politics this cycle, and it is trying to position itself as more centrist than the KMT. It could erode support for or even eclipse the KMT, as some recent public polling has shown it might; but given the long track record of third party candidates in Taiwan underperforming in elections relative to early polls, I'll believe it only when I see it.
4. Does the amendment to lower the voting age have a chance? Unlike in 2018, there’s not going to be referendums held alongside the local elections. There will, however, be a vote on a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age, from 20 to 18 years old. There is no open partisan opposition to the amendment, which passed the legislature 109-0 on March 25. But it does require the support of half of all eligible voters to take effect -- not just half of those voting. With an electorate of 19.3 million, that means 9.65 million yes votes are required for approval. So it will need high turnout in the local elections, and even so it is far from certain the proposal will get enough support to pass the threshold. This is the first time the voters will decide on a constitutional amendment since the new procedure was adopted in 2005.
5. Year of the Woman? I was surprised at just how well-represented women are in both parties this cycle. Either the KMT or DPP has nominated a woman in 2 of 6 special municipalities, and 10 of 16 other races. In 3 races (Nantou, Changhua, and Hualien), both candidates are women. Taiwan rightly gets a lot of attention for having a woman as president and increasing representation in the legislature (41% in 2020, up from 38% in 2016). But the numbers at the local level are also striking: one can easily imagine a result in 2022 where women end up leading a majority of Taiwan's localities, in Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Yilan, Hsinchu City, Nantou, Changhua, Chiayi City, Yunlin, Pingtung, Hualien, and Taitung.
That’s all the more impressive because the cabinet still looks like this:
And the top of Taiwanese academia looks like this:
And the business world still looks like this:
Electoral politics really is a women’s profession in Taiwan, which makes it exceptional in the region, and a nice contrast to Japan and Korea, and of course these guys across the Strait:
For more on how women came to be so prominent in Taiwanese elections, check out this explanation from Huang Chang-ling about Taiwan's gender quotas and their long-term effects on women's advancement in politics. Nathan Batto also has a great paper on this topic.
This is Part II of the 2022 local elections overview. For coverage of special municipalities, see Part I. For the South, East, and Offshore Islands, see Part III. For concluding thoughts, see Part IV.
Keelung City - 基隆市
KMT: Nominated former legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) on May 26.
DPP: Nominated legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) on July 22.
Others: The NPP has nominated a candidate for mayor here, city councilor Chen Wei-chung (陳薇仲). Independent candidate Huang Hsi-hsien (黃希賢) left the KMT in 2021. One other political novice registered -- a poet named Tseng Kuo-min (曾國民).
Result: KMT gain. Hsieh Kuo-liang wins, 52.9-39.0%.
Yilan County - 宜蘭縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent county executive Lin Zi-miao (林姿妙).
DPP: Nominated Yilan City mayor Chiang Tsung-yuan (江聰淵).
Others: The TPP has nominated party caucus director Chen Wan-hui (陳琬惠) here. Update 9.2: Three others.
Update 10.26: Leans KMT. Recent polling indicates Lin is holding on despite the corruption charges, and Chiang hasn't made much progress here. I have no local knowledge about what is going on in this race, but if Chiang was going to consolidate the green camp behind him it should have happened by now. Two polls from very different outlets using different methods both find him stuck in the low 30s -- in Yilan! Lin Zi-miao is enjoying the advantages of incumbency, I guess? Rating change to Leans KMT.
Result: KMT hold. Lin Zi-miao wins 50.8-41.1%.
Hsinchu City - 新竹市
KMT: Nominated 6-term city councilor Lin Geng-ren (林耕仁) on June 22.
DPP: Nominated deputy mayor Shen Hui-hung (沈慧虹), also on June 22.
Others: The TPP has nominated party-list legislator Kao Hung-an 高虹安. The NPP may also field a candidate here. Update 9.2: In the end, the NPP did not endorse a candidate; 3 independents registered.
Update 10.26: Toss-Up. Kao is clearly competitive here, and her candidacy seems to be pulling more support from the blue than green camp. Still a month to go, but this race could break toward any of the three main candidates now. It's certainly not looking great for Lin and the KMT...Rating change to Toss-Up.
Result: TPP gain. Kao Hung-an wins 45.0-35.7%.
Hsinchu County - 新竹縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent Yang Wen-ke (楊文科).
DPP: Nominated Chou Chiang-chieh (周江杰) on August 8.
Others: Chubei mayor Ho Kan-ming (何淦銘) declared his own candidacy in June and tried without success to convince the DPP to back him. Update 9.23: Ho pulled out of the race at the last moment; 3 other independents registered.
Update 9.23: Safe KMT. With Ho not running and no other prominent pan-blue candidates registering, this race is now effectively a one-on-one contest between a KMT incumbent facing a young, untested DPP nominee in a deep blue county. There's a plausible scenario in which Yang could have lost this election, but this is not it. Rating change to Safe KMT.
Result: KMT hold. Yang Ke-wen wins 63.4-32.4%.
Miaoli County - 苗栗縣
KMT: Initially announced Legislator Hsu Chih-jung (徐志榮) as the nominee on May 14. But Hsu didn't want to run, and on June 29 he was replaced by Hsieh Fu-hung (謝福弘).
DPP: Nominated Hsu Ting-chen (徐定禎) on April 27.
Others: KMT member Chung Tung-chin (鐘東錦) declared he would defy the party leadership and run as an independent shortly after Hsieh's nomination was announced. The NPP has also nominated a candidate here, Song Kuo-ting (宋國鼎). One other independent candidate.
Update 10.26: Toss-up. The renegade candidate Chung still seems to be a serious threat to win this. In the absence of good polling data and with all four candidates apparently still viable, rating change to Toss-Up.
Result: Independent (KMT renegade) gain. Chung wins 42.7%-31.2%.
Nantou County - 南投縣
KMT: Nominated legislator Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華) on May 26. (Not to be confused with Taipei City DPP councilor Hsu Shu-hua (also written 許淑華 in Chinese.))
DPP: Nominated former party-list legislator Frida Tsai (蔡培慧) on March 29.
Others: One independent, county councilor Wang Yung-ching (王永慶).
Result: KMT hold. Hsu Shu-hua wins, 56.0-42.8%.
Changhua County - 彰化縣
KMT: Renominated incumbent Wang Huei-mei (王惠美).
DPP: Nominated legislator legislator Huang Shiou-fang (黃秀芳) on June 28.
Others: One minor candidate.
Result: KMT hold. Wang Hui-mei wins, 56.8-41.9%.
Taiwan's local elections will be held this year on Saturday, November 26, the date set by the Central Election Commission. Altogether, nine different types of offices are up for election:
Since 2014, these elections have all been held concurrently on a four-year cycle. The local elections in 2022 are the only island-wide ones to be held between the 2020 and 2024 general elections for president and the legislature. That makes these something like midterm elections in the United States: in addition to deciding who governs across all of Taiwan's localities, they also are an important bellwether for trends in party politics. In 2014, the DPP flipped seven of the county and city executives, providing the first concrete indication that it could surpass the KMT and sweep to victory in 2016. In 2018, the KMT returned the favor, flipping nine local mayors including an astonishing upset victory by Han Kuo-yu in Kaohsiung; Han's victory set off a politically volatile period in Taiwan politics that concluded only with Tsai Ing-wen's equally astonishing comeback and emphatic reelection in January 2020.
In an important shift, this time around both major parties have mostly done away with the party member votes and polling primaries that they had used over the past several election cycles to choose their nominees for city and county executives. Instead, the party chair --Tsai Ing-wen for the DPP, Eric Chu for the KMT -- is playing a decisive role in "negotiating" the nominees in each locality. (As this post from Nathan Batto details, both major parties have become more skeptical about the value of using polls to decide nominees after the 2020 election cycle.) The DPP has had considerable success using this method of negotiation in the past, but the KMT has typically struggled to work out side deals in the same way and suffered lots of intra-party splits as a result. A key concern for both, then, will be keeping disgruntled party members who were denied a nomination from running anyway as independents, or not campaigning to elect the party's official candidates.
Now that the candidates for most of these races have been chosen, I am going to keep notes here on the nominees for each executive race, along with whatever other tidbits might be relevant, and try to give some context for what to expect. To keep this manageable, I've broken this discussion into three parts. Today's post has an overview of the highest-profile races in the six special municipalities (直轄市): Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. Later I'll break down the county-level executive races in north and central Taiwan, and then follow with the south, east, and offshore islands.
Update 8.27. I've added in a rough estimate of the partisan leaning of each locality. Following the Partisan Voting Index (PVI) developed by the Cook Political Report for elections in the United States, I've called this the Taiwan Partisan Voting Index (T-PVI). To calculate T-PVI, I averaged the DPP presidential vote share in each jurisdiction over the last two presidential elections (in 2016 and 2020), then took the difference between the national and local vote share. B+1 means the city or county is one point bluer (i.e. less favorable to the DPP) than the national electorate. G+1 means it is one point greener (more favorable to the DPP.) By this measure, the "bluest" locality in Taiwan is Lienchiang County, at B+38, and the "greenest" is Tainan at G+11. Of Taiwan's 22 localities, 14 are bluer than average, 7 are greener, and one (Changhua County) is even. So, in a national political environment where the blue and green camps are running even, the blue side should be favored to win 14 localities to the green side's 7.
Update 9.20. The latest TFOP poll shows Tsai Ing-wen's approval rating dropping to 43.8% in September, the lowest monthly rating since June 2021, and near the lowest point of her second term. The national environment for the DPP doesn't look as favorable as it did two months ago.
Update 10.26. October TFOP poll is out and shows Tsai Ing-wen's approval rating bouncing back up to 51.2%, and generic identification with the DPP jumping up from 22.4% to 33.5%. That increase might (?) be related to the attention on the CCP 20th Party Congress, where Xi Jinping secured a third term as party secretary and stacked the Standing Committee of the Politburo with his own loyalists. Regardless, that's a big improvement for the DPP in the last month before the elections.
Taipei - 台北市
KMT: Nominated Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) on May 25.
DPP: Nominated Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on July 10.
Others: Deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan (黃珊珊) declared as an independent candidate on August 28. Former Tainan County magistrate Su Huan-chih (蘇煥) announced on July 29 he's running as an independent. 8 others also registered by the September 2 deadline.
It's hard to say what effect Huang would have on the race -- the TPP under Ko has moved toward the bluer end of the political spectrum, so my prior before seeing any polls was that her presence would hurt Chiang more. But Ko Wen-je also won two terms as mayor by appealing to young, green-leaning and independent voters; if Huang is able to draw support from these same blocs, as some polls are showing she might, perhaps it's Chen Shih-chung who is hurt more. At this point, with Huang not even formally in the race yet, my guess is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Result: KMT gain. Chiang Wan-an wins, 42.3-32.0-25.1%. CEC official results are here.
New Taipei - 新北市
KMT: Renominated incumbent mayor Hou You-yi (sometimes spelled Hou Yu-yih 侯友宜).
DPP: Nominated Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) on July 10.
Result: KMT hold. Hou You-yi wins 62.4-37.6%.
Taoyuan - 桃園市
KMT: Nominated Simon Chang (Chang San-cheng 張善政), the party's 2020 VP candidate and former premier for a brief period at the end of the Ma administration.
DPP: Nominated Lin Chih-chien (林智堅), the incumbent mayor of Hsinchu City; Lin withdrew from the race on August 12, and the DPP announced legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) would run instead.
Others: Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶), a TPP party-list legislator, is also running. Former DPP legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) declared on August 27. No others.
Update 8.12: At this point, replacing Lin with Cheng probably helps the DPP. At the least, Cheng is from Taoyuan, and the switch happened early enough that he should be able to run a competitive campaign. The controversy over Lin's plagiarism cases was becoming a huge distraction for the party.
Update 8.27: Cheng Pao-ching's entry into the race complicates what has already become a difficult election for the DPP here. With the TPP's Lai not getting much traction in polls, Chang San-cheng now appears to have the edge.
Update 10.26: Leans KMT. A month out from the election, and Simon Chang keeps holding on to a significant lead in polls, although well short of 50%. The TPP's Lai hasn't made any headway, so this is trending in the opposite direction from Hsinchu City with the KMT the likely beneficiary of strategic voting, while Cheng Pao-ching appears to be pulling enough of the vote to doom Cheng Yun-peng. Rating change to Leans KMT.
Result: KMT gain. Simon Chang wins 52.0-40.0%.
Taichung - 台中市
KMT: Renominated incumbent mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕).
DPP: Nominated legislator and deputy LY speaker Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) on April 27.
Others: A third candidate, Chen Mei-fei (陳美妃) registered on the last day to run as an independent.
Update 10.26: Likely KMT. A month out from Election Day and this race hasn't moved much. Lu is looking much more popular, and Tsai worse, than I expected in August. Polls keep showing this race to be more like the KMT's version of Tainan or Kaohsiung than a swing city. Rating change to Likely KMT.
Result: KMT hold. Lu Shiow-yen wins 59.3-38.9%.
Tainan - 台南市
KMT: Nominated city councilor Hsieh Lung-chieh (謝龍介) on March 23.
DPP: Renominated incumbent Huang Wei-che (黃偉哲) (sometimes spelled Huang Wei-cher).
Others: Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信), a former TSU legislator, has entered the race as an independent. Three others, including 2018 candidate Lin Yi-feng (林義豐).
Result: DPP hold. Huang wins 48.8-43.6%.
Kaohsiung - 高雄市
KMT: Nominated former legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) on June 29.
DPP: Renominated incumbent mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁).
Others: Two independent candidates.
Result: DPP hold. Chen Chi-mai wins 58.1-40.2%
China's recent military bravado in the Taiwan Strait represents the end state of a failed strategy
The drums of war are growing louder in the Taiwan Strait. In the last month, at least 50 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft have entered Taiwan’s airspace. The volume of threatening language directed at Taiwan from sources in China, both official and unofficial, has reached a crescendo, and the headlines in the news grow more alarmingeach month. In the United States, mainstream foreign policy voices are now openly debating whether the U.S. should abandon strategic ambiguity and openly commit to defend Taiwan in the case of an attack — an idea advocated not so long ago by only a radical fringe.
But these dire headlines are misleading: Beijing is not gearing up for an attack on Taiwan. It still has neither the capacity to launch a successful full-scale invasion, nor the motive to risk a conflict with the United States. In reality, the increasingly bellicose language coming from China is a sign of weakness, not strength, and a cover for the failure of its own Taiwan policy. Having thrown away most of its non-military leverage in a fruitless effort to compel Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to endorse its one China principle, Beijing has now been reduced to counter-productive saber-rattling to express its discontent at U.S. arms sales and high-level diplomatic visits, while Taiwan races to strengthen its own defenses and reorient its economy away from overdependence on mainland China. In short, Xi Jinping’s approach to the “Taiwan issue” has turned into a strategic fiasco — one that may take years for Beijing to recover from...
The rest of this commentary appears at The Diplomat.
It's alive! This book volume on Taiwan politics during the Ma Ying-jeou years (2008-2016), which I've edited with Chu Yun-han and Larry Diamond, just arrived in the mail from Lynne Rienner Publishers this weekend.
This is our attempt at a deep dive into various aspects of Ma-era politics, including party politics and elections, political institutions and governance challenges, trends in public opinion and democratic values, civil society and social movements, and cross-Strait and US-Taiwan-PRC relations. This look at the Ma years parallels somewhat our earlier book on the Chen Shui-bian era.
We were fortunate to be able to assemble a great group of contributors for this book--about half based in Taiwan and half abroad--who offer a variety of perspectives on the politics of the Ma years. The scholarship here draws on years of conferences, papers, and conversations that started even before President Ma left office, including with some of the key participants in and outside of the Ma administration. (Chapter 15, for instance, is by Szu-yin Ho, who served for two years as deputy Secretary-General of Ma's National Security Council.) This sort of cross-national collaboration is less common than it should be (in part because it's logistically hard to pull off!), but I am convinced the final product is much stronger for it.
Among the many great contributions here, let me especially highlight three that provide original, provocative answers to important questions about the Ma era:
For more thoughts on those issues and a broader overview of the book, check out the introductory chapter, which is available ungated from the publisher's website.
Table of Contents:
How Taiwan Stands Up to China
I have a piece out in the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy on Chinese efforts to influence Taiwan politics, and why they failed in the January 2020 elections. After the DPP lost badly in the 2018 local elections, there was a lot of speculation (see, e.g. here, here, here, here, and here) that Beijing would be emboldened by these results and expand its efforts to sway the 2020 campaign and turn President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP out of office, or failing that, would find ways to delegitimize the results and destabilize Taiwan's democracy. In the end, that didn't happen: Tsai recovered from a politically shaky first term to win an even larger share of the vote than in 2016, the DPP held onto its legislative majority, and Tsai's main opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the KMT, openly conceded defeat on election night.
In the article, I lay out several reasons why these fears did not come to pass in 2020, and why Taiwan's democracy has repeatedly proven resilient to PRC pressure campaigns.
The full article is available via Project Muse, and access is free through August 15, 2020.
If Tsai Ing-wen is superstitious, she should be worried: second term presidents in Taiwan appear to be cursed. Much like President Tsai, her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou started his second term on a confident and triumphant note. But over the next four years, he faced a relentless series of political crises, including an intraparty power struggle with Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, massive protests against the death of a military conscript and construction of a nuclear power plant, and of course the Sunflower Movement occupation of the legislature, which effectively halted cross-Strait rapprochement with Beijing. President Ma’s approval ratings bottomed out at record lows, and he stepped down in 2016 on the heels of a sweeping electoral defeat of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), ultimately having accomplished little in his last years in office.
Somehow, Chen Shui-bian’s second term was even worse. The controversy around his re-election victory in 2004 robbed him of whatever political momentum he might have enjoyed, and he spent most of his remaining tenure fending off vicious partisan attacks, anti-corruption accusations in the press, massive street rallies by his opponents, and impeachment attempts in the legislature. In his attempt to keep core pro-independence supporters on his side, President Chen pursued a brash symbolic agenda that deliberately provoked the pan-Blue opposition, infuriated Beijing, alienated even potential allies in Washington, and left him politically isolated. In the 2008 elections, his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) paid a steep electoral price, and after his term was finally over, Chen ended up in handcuffs: the corruption accusations turned out to be true, and he was sentenced to a long prison term.
The rest of this piece continues at Taiwan Insight.
I am a political scientist with research interests in democratization, elections and election management, parties and party system development, one-party dominance, and the links between domestic politics and external security issues. My regional expertise is in East Asia, with special focus on Taiwan.