Everything you need to know about Taiwan’s election

Today’s presidential election in Taiwan is shaping up to be a turning point for the tiny, but increasingly important, island nation.

Driving the news: As of writing, polls are showing no definite front-runner in the race to replace current Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, who has reached her two-term limit. 

Why it matters: The election will dictate the future of Taiwan’s relationship with China and the West, with Beijing even framing the contest as a choice between peace and war. Given the island’s growing economic importance, any military action would disrupt global markets. 

  • Taiwan is the top producer of semiconductors, which are vital to any remotely advanced piece of technology, from smartphones to virtually all AI-powered tools.

  • It’s also home to the Taiwan Strait, a major trade artery where nearly half of the world’s cargo ships carry some US$3 trillion worth of goods every year. 

Catch-up: While Taiwan claims to be a sovereign nation, China begs to differ and has repeatedly asserted that Taiwan is China and the two will one day be “reunified.”  Beijing has indicated aims for a peaceful merger, but it’s never explicitly ruled out using military force.

  • China has bristled at the vocal support for independence by Taiwan’s current leader, creating tension and fears of an invasion. China has staged near-daily military exercises around Taiwan and cut off all military communications with Taiwan in 2022. 

Let’s meet the candidates: 

  • Lai Ching-te. Lai has been a vocal proponent of Taiwan’s independence and vowed to keep close ties with the U.S. and build new links with Europe. A Harvard-educated doctor, he’s fighting to secure an unprecedented third-straight term for the ruling DPP.

  • Hou Yu-ih. Hou supports self-determination but not full independence and wants to revive Taiwan-China relations. China is accused of running a campaign to bolster his chances. Hou leads the KMT, which ruled Taiwan as a one-party state for decades.

  • Ko Wen-je. Ko is the oddball. The former mayor of Taipei and founder of the upstart Taiwan People’s Party claims he can chart a “third way” in China-Taiwan relations.  He has won over many Gen Z voters thanks to his outsider status and sick rap skills

Yes, but: Even if it upsets China, the West would still prefer a Lai win. While Hou has also said he wants to strengthen U.S. relations, experts believe he could end enhanced security co-operation with the U.S. to achieve his goal of normalizing Chinese relations.—QH