Taiwan’s elections provide powerful lessons on democratic vibrancy and resilience

  • 2024-01-11
  • Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

At a time when China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping has tightened nationwide surveillance and controls to the extent that dissent appears to be utterly wiped out, and continues to be in office indefinitely, Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections are in full swing around the nation.

On 13 January, 19.5 million voters in Taiwan will head to the polls to choose between three sets of candidates for president and vice president, as well as to elect their district representatives of the Legislative Yuan – equivalent to a parliament in other democracies.  Among some 80 national elections due to take place in 2024, the ones in Taiwan are ushering in the Year of Democracy or Elections and will be one of this year’s most watched contests. The results and their potential implications will not only chart the future of Taiwan relations with China, but also will be felt far beyond the Indo-Pacific region. 

In the past 30 years, having held seven free and fair direct presidential elections, Taiwan has matured into a fully democratic country well recognized around the world.  In the 2020 elections, nearly 75% of Taiwanese voters cast ballots, among the highest in the democratic world, and Taiwan’s civil society is often ranked as the most open and free in all of Asia.  

The story of Taiwan’s democratization is celebrated by Taiwanese and peace-and-freedom-loving Chinese around the world as a shining model for China and the Chinese-speaking world.  In the face of geopolitical challenges and military threats, the democratic consolidation in Taiwan serves as a beacon of hope, showcasing the resilience of democracy in the pursuit of a progressive, diversified and inclusive society. 

However, since Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, China has attempted to interfere with the process of each election through military threat, economic coercion, cognitive warfare, and disinformation campaign, using Taiwan’s free and open society to manipulate public opinion and sway election results in favor of preferred candidates as part of its objectives to exert political control over Taiwan.

As Taiwan is on the front line of China’s authoritarian ambition and expansion, Beijing has been using Taiwan to exercise its military tools and test its autocratic influence. If China succeeds in meddling Taiwan’s democratic elections, it will employ the same tactics in other parts of the free world.  The global community needs to take serious measures to counteract China’s interference.  For this, we thank members of the democratic world for voicing support for Taiwan at various global venues, and urge the international community to express grave concern over China’s attempts to sabotage Taiwan’s democratic process. 

Democracies across the world and international media are alarmed by Beijing’s growing political assertiveness and military ambition towards Taiwan.  While western politicians and scholars express increasing concern of the threat that China poses to global stability and democracy, for Taiwan it is an existential question and a matter of life and death.  As of the time of writing, more than 320 journalists from 125 medias around the world are gathering in Taiwan to cover the elections.

The Republic of China came to Taiwan in 1949.  Over the past 75 years, Taiwan has gone from poverty to prosperity, from authoritarianism to democracy, and from uniformity to diversity.  Slowly but surely, we remade the Republic of China (Taiwan) into what it is today. 

As a result, amid this evolving global landscape, the Republic of China (Taiwan) today finds itself in a situation that is more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 75 years.  China’s persistent exercises and gray zone operations, incursions with military personnel, weaponry, and drones in the areas around Taiwan, have hugely undermined the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, and greatly threaten peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.  A network of solidarity to uphold the rule of law among like-minded countries is a clear-cut answer to countering authoritarian expansion, safeguarding democracy, and addressing shared challenges. 

Taiwan’s free and fair elections once again demonstrate the vibrancy and resilience of democratic system.  It is the clearest message to the Chinese government and the international community that Taiwanese people are determined to decide their own leaders, future, political system, and way of life through democratic process.

No matter what challenges may confront Taiwan ahead, the 23.5 million people will continue to firmly tread the path of democracy and freedom.