Taiwan's Election Inertia may save us all... something needs to.
Saturday, the 13th, starts the global “vote to the apocalypse: 2024” in Taiwan with the front runner threatening – by mere virtue of his election - to upset what is left of the global status quo ante. The status quo tends to get a bad rap from big, loud, dynamic American’s who say things like “If you aren’t moving forward, your moving backward.”
The status quo, though, has one huge advantage for all three parties most interested in Taiwan’s elections, as well as for the rest of the world: Inertia. If you slept through physics, inertia is that force that keeps moving objects rolling along or, as in the case of Taiwan, stationary objects staying exactly where they are. Inertia, when tensions are high, buys time for world leaders to look at the math of the situation and say, “Wait, this is a terrible idea.”
The much hyped-summit between President’s Biden and Xi accomplished almost nothing. Earlier this week, Chinese and US military leaders wrapped up two days of meetings at the Pentagon to do the same thing. Things may not be getting better, but they sure as hell aren’t getting worse. Which is probably for the best because China’s Taiwan policy is practically unresolvable. Xi has still ordered the People’s Liberation Army to ready itself for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027. Ominous, sure, but Xi has never hit an economic target since taking power in 2013. He orders a lot of things that don’t happen.
The US position, on the other hand, is inane: Taiwan is part of state of China, but not its political system. With that in mind it looks like simple, lazy inertia is about the only thing keeping the worlds two most powerful countries from going at it.
All of this my change on Saturday, and it’s worth considering the fall out: Lai Ching-te is the front runner with a 5% lead in the polls. He’s the deputy president and a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who calls himself a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence.” Lai talks about heading to the White House as Taiwan’s president and that the island doesn’t need a referendum because it its already an independent country. China, for the record, calls him a “destroyer of peace.” And in this case, they may be onto something.
Lai’s nearest rival is Hou Yu-ih of the rival Kuomintang. The KMT in the first party of Taiwan, the party of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who lost the civil war in 1949 and scrambled to an off-shore island lair to create the mess currently in our lap. Traditionally, nationalist movements are very good at holding grudges, and Marxist one even more so, but the Chinese Communist Party wants the KMT to win because it backs a One China policy, even if it thinks that Taipei is the legitimate government of all of China. It’s an aspiration so confused it can be easily ignored.
In theory, the US would support unification were it peaceful. In practice, the island is part of the “First Island Chain” running from Japan to Indonesia serving at “America’s forward defense perimeter in the Western Pacific.” For the record, Indonesia has absolutely no intention of acting as a “forward defense perimeter” for the US.
In theory, China has already offered Taiwan the same “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement that worked so well in Hong Kong. In practice, this is like letting the guy who roofied your sister buy you a drink.
So in this foul year of our Lord 2024, a conveniently fuzzy vision of the future is exactly what Taipei, Beijing, Washington and – arguably – probably the world needs: A vision too vague and non-descript to actually act on it, and too incoherent to offend anyone.
Practically, though, it might be the US presidential election that will make a greater difference – Trump has accused Taiwan of stealing US computer chip business, and has said he won’t defend the island either way.