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Rising Chinese pressure in Taiwan

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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Office in Taipei on August 21. Tsai has resigned as head of the ruling party. SAM YEH/afp

Rising Chinese pressure in Taiwan

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan)/ANN: VOTER discontent with the administration of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has erupted. A weakening of the administration is inevitable. It is indispensable to take precautions against China’s increasing pressure on Taiwan, which could destabilise the situation across the Taiwan Strait.

In local elections held in Taiwan, the number of ruling Democratic Progressive Party heads of local governments more than halved from 13 to six. Tsai resigned as head of the party, saying that she accepts complete responsibility for the outcome.

The local elections were viewed as an interim evaluation of the Tsai administration, which began in 2016, and was also seen as a prelude to the next presidential election, slated for 2020. Although Tsai continues to assume the post of president, her ability to hold things together will decline, making it difficult to foresee whether she will be able to run for re-election.

While the DPP clearly expresses Taiwan independence in its party platform, Tsai has advocated for a continuation of the status quo in the island’s policy toward China: neither independence nor unification.

If pro-independence forces within the DPP gain momentum, tensions with China could heighten. The Tsai administration must minimise the impact of such forces on Taiwan’s relations with China.

China welcomed the results of the elections, saying they “reflected the strong wish of the Taiwan public for an improvement to the island’s economy and people’s well-being.”

Beijing probably considers the DPP’s massive defeat as the fruit of its having maintained its pressure on Taiwan in diplomatic, military and economic spheres, on the grounds of the Tsai administration’s opposition to the “one China” policy.

China has established diplomatic relations with Panama and four other countries, having them ditch ties with Taiwan.

In the waters around Taiwan, China has been conducting military drills more actively. While limiting the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, Beijing is extending its support to those from the island who are looking for jobs or schools in China, apparently in a bid to divide public sentiment.

Self-restraint called for

Such deeds can hardly be considered as ones befitting a major power that should assume responsibility for the stability of the Taiwan Strait and the Asia-Pacific region. China is strongly urged to exercise self-restraint.

The pro-China Nationalists, Taiwan’s biggest opposition party, won the mayoral election in Kaohsiung, a key stronghold for the DPP. By reviving the strength of the party, the Nationalists have gained momentum toward taking power from the DPP.

In the local elections, the issue of bilateral relations between China and Taiwan was not a major point of contention.

Nevertheless, it is also a fact that recognition has been spreading that the deteriorated relations between China and Taiwan have been adversely affecting Taiwan’s economy, as evidenced by the drop in the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan and the sluggishness in exports of its farm products to China.

Public opinion is swinging between wariness over Beijing’s ambition for unification and hopes for the prosperity that China could bring to Taiwan. Whether it is the ruling party or an opposition party, the issue of how much distance Taiwan should maintain from China will continue to be a challenge.

In referendums held concurrently with the local elections, import bans on foods produced in five Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima – bans that have been kept in place since the accident at Fukushima No1 nuclear power plant – were validated by a sufficient number of votes in favour of their continuation.

The Japanese government’s aim of a swift end to the bans has become unforeseeable. The results will likely throw cold water on the good Japan-Taiwan relationship.

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