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Lai to eventually become a 'dangerous friend' of the West

Zhang Hua, Zhang Qiru

The Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua
The Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua

The Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Zhang Hua, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a researcher at the Taiwan Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Zhang Qiru, a special commentator for CGTN, is a teacher at the School of Marxism, Shandong University. The article reflects the authors' opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Lai Ching-te and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party won Taiwan's leadership elections on January 13, 2024, which has been celebrated by Washington and its allies, who view the election results as a "victory of democracy over authoritarianism," offering "congratulations" to Lai, with Japan and the U.S. even sending officials to the Taiwan region.

In fact, this is a major strategic misjudgment by the U.S. because they will find that Lai's governance on the island may drag them into a dilemma rather than achieve their strategic goals in the near future.

Data shows Lai can't represent mainstream public opinion on the island. His vote share and number of voters were both at the lowest level in Taiwan's elections although he won. The regional leaders have always received more than 50 percent of the votes with only two exceptions since Taiwan implemented direct elections in 1996. One was Chen Shui-bian's 39.3 percent in 2000, and the other was Lai Ching-te's 40 percent this time.

This year's elections were also one of the two times when the winner received less than 6 million votes. The first time was Chen Shui-bian's 4.97 million votes in 2000, and the second was Lai's 5.58 million votes this time. Moreover, the number of voters in Taiwan was only 15.46 million in 2000, which grew to 19.54 million in 2024.

Lai Ching-te's actual supporters are not that many, either. The voting rate for the 2024 election was 71 percent, of which 40 percent voted for Lai, which means only about 28 percent of the qualified voters chose Lai, while more than 70 percent didn't. Therefore, his election doesn't mean that the majority of the people on the island support him.

Scenery of the scenic spot of Riyue Tan, or the Sun Moon Lake, in Nantou County, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua
Scenery of the scenic spot of Riyue Tan, or the Sun Moon Lake, in Nantou County, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua

Scenery of the scenic spot of Riyue Tan, or the Sun Moon Lake, in Nantou County, southeast China's Taiwan. /Xinhua

An important reason why the U.S. supports Lai Ching-te and congratulated him following his election is that they claim his election is a "victory of democracy" on the island. Taiwan region implements a Western-style electoral system, which is different from the whole-process people's democracy in the Chinese mainland. The U.S. also accuses Chinese mainland of "intervening" in Taiwan's leadership election, but the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has a relatively cold relationship with mainland's government, is still able to win in a row, which shows "the vitality and resilience of Taiwan's democracy."

In fact, Lai Ching-te and the DPP have never stood for "democracy." Take the DPP's governance over the past eight years as an example. The DPP forcibly shut down Chung Tien Television (CTiTV) as it didn't agree with its political stance. Meanwhile, they trained a large group of "1450," a synonym for "DPP's Internet army," to verbally attack those with whom they disagree. Is this a democratic act in the eyes of the U.S.?

Besides, the number of representatives of opposition parties, namely the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People's Party (TPP), in this election has risen sharply compared to the last time, while the number of DPP members has changed from an absolute majority to a relative minority. The DPP is no longer able to influence the whole political situation in the Taiwan region as the voters are desperate to break up the atmosphere of "green terror" which has seeped down to the grassroots level of Taiwan society. 

Lai will eventually become a "dangerous friend" of the West. In addition to ideology, there are geostrategic considerations for the West to support Lai. In their opinion, the Taiwan region is more likely to become a pawn for them under Lai's governance.

There is no doubt that the DPP is more pro-U.S. and more willing to transfer its people's benefits to the West than the KMT. But will this be easier for them to use the "Taiwan card" to contain the Chinese mainland? No. Lai's political agenda has some differences with the West. The U.S. has long abided by the one-China principle, and one of the kernels is that the U.S. acknowledges that Taiwan is part of China and does not challenge that position. If Lai, who once called himself a "pragmatic worker for Taiwan's independence," insists on "Taiwan independence," it will lead to a war in the Taiwan Straits.

On the other hand, it is recognized that Lai is obstinate and it is difficult for others to change his views. If Lai insists on promoting "Taiwan independence," the U.S. won't be able to restrain him. At that time, the West may really come to realize that Lai is "a dangerous friend."

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

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