Candidates in Taiwan Election Signal Moderate China Stances

Candidates in Taiwan Election Signal Moderate China Stances
Hou Yu-ih

The Lede: Taiwan’s opposition nationalist Kuomintang party has nominated its presidential candidate, Hou Yu-ih, who takes a moderate stance on relations with China. Meanwhile, the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Vice President Lai Ching-te, has played down Taiwan independence rhetoric.

What We Know:

  • Hou Yu-ih, a former police officer turned mayor of New Taipei City, has secured the nomination for the KMT in the upcoming presidential election in Taiwan. He edges out Terry Gou, founder of electronics manufacturer Foxconn, in the race for the KMT presidential candidacy.
  • Hou does not have a track record of holding a firm position on the geopolitical situation with China. He has only expressed that he believes in the sovereignty and rights of the nation, but stops short of saying that Taiwan is independent. He has expressed his rejection of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that Beijing proposes for unification, which has become less attractive after the developments in Hong Kong in recent years.
  • Taiwan Vice President, DPP Chairman, and DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te said that he believes that there is no need to publicly declare Taiwan’s independence and that his administration would not make such declarations at an event hosted by the National Chengchi University’s student council.

The Background: The upcoming election in Taiwan is seen as a referendum on the self-governing island’s future relations with Mainland China after tensions in recent years involving U.S. government support and Chinese military drills. Hou has not had many interactions with U.S. officials aside from some reported meetings at the American Institute in Taiwan, the U.S. de facto embassy. As a candidate for the same position, Terry Gou ran on a strong message of aiming to restore relations with China. His lack of experience in politics and business interests in China likely played a role in the KMT decision to pass on his candidacy. Han Kuo-yu, the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2020, made bold speeches and pledged to bring Taiwan closer to China. He lost in a landslide to DPP President Tsai Ing-wen. Last year, the KMT won almost two-thirds of local mayoral elections in a significant upset over the DPP.

Likely Outcomes:

  • While the KMT aims to secure votes from constituents who want to restore warmer relations with China, they also seek to win over centrist voters who are skeptical of Beijing. As each candidate campaigns, both sides will insist that they are the best choice in dealing with China and avoiding conflict. The message will be a contest between each candidate and their respective parties’ version of pragmatism toward China.
  • Although the election rhetoric may vary in the following months, barring outside interference in Taiwan politics, Taipei will likely walk back from the high-tension position that has placed it in such a volatile situation in recent years regardless of which candidate wins. Close relations with the U.S. will persist, but the political and economic costs of Taipei’s ties to Washington have risen higher than the Taiwanese people want to pay.
  • U.S. trade restrictions on semiconductors will pose a serious obstacle to restoring the sector’s ties to China. While other, unrelated industries may move toward a freer cross-strait flow, products in the technology sector—especially the most advanced and security-sensitive ones—will be a tripwire in Taiwan unless the Western countries move toward loosening restrictions. That would be unlikely under the present circumstances.


“I'm Taiwanese. I'm humble, diligent and honest. I will work hard to strive for a good future for this piece of land. We know that the Republic of China is our country and Taiwan is our home." – Hou Yu-ih, mayor of New Taipei City and KMT presidential candidate

"I believe that Taiwan must discuss cooperation with China based on the goal of improving the well-being of people on both sides of the strait." – Lai Ching-te, vice president of Taiwan and DPP presidential candidate

“To win the election, it is imperative for the Kuomintang to persuade the people that voting for them is the safer and more promising choice in achieving peace. At the same time, how it would convince the Taiwanese people they will not betray Taiwan or allow China to completely swallow up Taiwan’s sovereignty presents a significant challenge for Kuomintang.” – Paul Chao-hsiang Chu, politics professor at National Taiwan Normal University

Good Reads:

As China Looms Over Taiwan’s Presidential Race, the Opposition Picks a Moderate (NYT)

Taiwan opposition party picks New Taipei mayor, a former police chief, as its presidential candidate (ABC News)

Vice President Lai says he will not declare Taiwan independence (Taiwan News)