Since 1949, Taiwan has been allowed to be governed independently from mainland China under the assumption that Taiwan is part of China and they will not seek independence as stipulated under the ‘One-China’ policy. However, the current Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, have sought to distance Taiwan from the mainland, which has caused tensions between Taipei and Beijing. In recent years, Beijing has taken a stronger stance towards maintaining the ‘One-China’ policy through a number of strategies, including performing military drills in the Taiwan Strait to show they will take Taiwan by force if necessary (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations).
The next presidential election is set for January 2020 with Tsai Ing-wen running for re-election. Han Kuo-yu, the mayor of Kaohsiung and member of the opposition party, Kuomintang, has also entered the race and, unlike Tsai Ing-Wen, he advocates for closer ties to China. He appeals to the older generation who have stronger ties to the mainland and wish for unification. However, he first has to beat the other potential nominees, Terry Gou, a billionaire whose company manufactures iPhones, and Eric Chu, the former mayor of New Taipei City. But, if Han Kuo-yu is elected, this could indicate a shift in Taiwan-China relations (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/asia/taiwan-han-president.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FTaiwan&action=click&contentCollection=world®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=collection).
Taiwan is divided on its stance towards China. Some want to fully unify with China, most want to maintain the status quo, and some want full independence. The older generations feel a closer connection to the mainland, while the younger generations have developed a unique Taiwanese identity that separates them from China. During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to talk to Taiwanese college students to hear their opinions. While the majority of Taiwan is ethnically Han Chinese, many identify as Taiwanese and are increasingly seeking independence and voting for politicians who share their views.
The outcome of this election and future elections could have many implications for the relationship between China and Taiwan. China is unlikely to relinquish its strict stance in the near future. While the population of people who want independence is still relatively small, if the trend of young people pushing for independence continues, tensions could flare up that would not only affect Taiwan and China but could have broader effects on the rest of the world.
About the Author
Grace Price is a senior studying Chinese and Global and International Studies with a minor in Political Science at the University of Kansas. She served as a summer 2019 Global Education Intern at the IRC.