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'We've been in this situation for a long time'

Ahead of Saturday’s election, Taiwanese voters say the threat of war isn't the only thing on their minds.

By Hsia Hsiao-hwa, Huang Chun-mei, Dong Zhe and Lee Tsung-han for RFA Mandarin

January 7, 2024

As Taiwan gears up for presidential and legislative elections next Saturday, voters on the streets of the democratic island's capital Taipei say a Chinese invasion isn't at the top of their list of concerns.

Despite the Chinese Communist Party's ongoing information wars, political infiltration and military incursions in the Taiwan Strait, some of the island's 23 million people say that such worries aren't at the forefront of their minds.

As the country counts down the last days of a presidential race, voters must choose between incumbent ruling Democratic Progressive Party Vice President Lai Ching-te, who has a strong track record of standing up to China, against the more China-friendly opposition candidates – Hou Yu-ih for the Kuomintang and Ko Wen-je for the Taiwan People's Party.

But not all voters are following the threat from China as closely as they were.

"It's pretty pointless as a Taiwanese person to speculate on such matters, as we've been in this situation for a long time," a voter who gave only the surname Lu told RFA Mandarin in a recent round of street interviews. 

Much of the early debate on the presidential campaign trail revolved around how candidates will handle the military threat from China. 

But Chinese President Xi Jinping's comments to U.S. President Biden at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November, in which he denied there was a timetable for an invasion of Taiwan, appear to have made voters feel more secure.

"We all know deep down that there can be no war," a voter who gave only the surname Weng said.

"I'm not worried," said a voter surnamed Chou. "The Taiwanese people must have confidence in themselves, and make their country strong."

"There is no problem," she said. "I feel confident."

Protecting sovereignty

Xi hasn't relinquished China's territorial claim on the island, which split from the mainland in 1949 amid civil war and has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, reiterating in a New Year address on Dec. 31 that "China will surely be reunified."

But a 31-year-old Taipei office worker who gave only the surname Hsieh said people are used to military threats and ramped-up rhetoric from Beijing at election time.

"All of the parties want to protect Taiwan's sovereignty," Hsieh said, adding that he doesn't see a vote for any of the candidates as a vote for war.

Neither can any of them promise that China would definitely not invade if they won the election, he said, adding that low-level, city-level exchanges are likely to alleviate current tensions with China.

Hsieh said the main advantage for the opposition parties is that China won't talk to the DPP, which has dismissed Beijing's claim on Taiwan and criticized its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. 

But he said the ruling party has a better track record when it comes to diplomacy, national defense and boosting Taiwan's international status, not to mention the all-important relationship with Washington.

‘Stop interfering’

A 90-year-old voter who gave only the surname Kao said he is a staunch Kuomintang supporter, who nonetheless doesn't want to see Chinese interference in Taiwan's democracy.

"I wish China would stop interfering in Taiwanese politics," Kao said. "Taiwan is under a democratic system now, which is different from communism."

He said Taiwan has come a long way since the civil war between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, and has spent the last few decades moving towards democracy, while China has been under Communist Party rule for more than 70 years.

"Taiwan has gotten used to ruling itself democratically," Kao said.

A voter who gave only the surname Li said anti-communism has been deeply ingrained in Taiwanese society since the 1927-1949 civil war between the Kuomintang government of the 1911 Republic of China and communist insurgents.

"They may fear our independence, but they didn't build our country," she said. "It's better if they live their lives, we live ours, and we maintain peaceful cross-straits relations."

Housing, the economy

Some told RFA Mandarin that they are more worried about the high price of housing than the threat of war.

"The economy is still pretty important, and our leaders need to take active steps to deal with it," Lu said.

"The high cost of housing has led a lot of young people to lose confidence in the future," he said, adding that he feels it's time for a change after eight years of DPP rule.

"​​If you are in power for too long, then issues of corruption are more likely," Lu said. "This is a problem faced by all ruling parties in the world, not just in Taiwan."

Chou disagreed, saying the current leadership has done a good job, and that "Taiwan is very happy now," and that she's counting her blessings.

Others said they were keen on Ko, because he appeared more down-to-earth, and to have concerns that were closer to their daily lives.

"The stuff about China is kind of out of our reach, and I don't pay much attention to it," a voter surnamed Qu told RFA Mandarin.

A Lai supporter surnamed Yang said the issue was much simpler for him.

"We must elect people who are able to protect Taiwan," he said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster



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