by N.Peter Kramer
Saturday January 11, the day of the presidential election in Taiwan. Till the end of spring it looked inevitable that the popular mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, was heading to a clear victory over the incumbent President, Ms Tsai Ing-wen, candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party. Voters were unhappy with the economic situation on the island and the painful reforms the president proposed. But over the last seven months the situation has changed dramatically. Mr Han’s poll ratings went down from almost 50 per cent to just 20 per cent, while Ms Tsai soared from 34 per cent to more than 50 per cent.
The reason behind this enormous shift are the heavy protests in Hong Kong. In Taiwan, everybody looks with Argus eyes at what is going on there. They highlight the threat that China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ formula would pose if it were applied to Taiwan. Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade if Taiwan resists unification indefinitely. The revolt in Hong Kong became an obstacle for the China friendly Mr Han; voters appear to have deserted him. His opponent, Ms Tsai, has during the last four years enraged Beijing by resisting China’s efforts to undermine Taiwan’s de facto independence.
The President used the opportunity to focus on China’s behaviour in relation to Hong Kong and draw the attention away from domestic problems. Fears over China undermined Han Kuo-yu’s campaign. It is all about Taiwan’s security now.