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Taipei, Taiwan Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has completed a nine-day trip to China, including meetings with some of the highest-ranking Communist Party officials, in hopes that its ties to Beijing will boost its chances in the presidential election. Will help you give. Will be held next year.

Known as the party with the best working relations with Beijing, the KMT’s close ties are a sore spot among more nationalist-minded voters on the self-ruled island, but it’s also a draw for the business community and older voters who still feel a strong cultural and political connection to China.

The visit marks the second visit in 12 months by KMT vice chairman Andrew Hsia, who visited China in August 2022 as tensions between Beijing and self-ruled Taiwan reached their highest level in 25 years. Held days after Beijing held military drills and fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in protest Visit of the then Speaker of the United States of America Nancy Pelosi For the democratic island, Hsia’s August visit turned out to be highly controversial.

So did it, earning a rebuke from Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the body that oversees Taipei’s relations with Beijing. China claims this island as its own.

Analysts say the KMT may be banking on voter fatigue for last year’s drama, which also sent votes to Beijing. Record number of flights over Taiwan’s air defense detection zone – to intimidate Taiwan – an area of ​​land and sea that is monitored by the military.

Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at the US Hoover Institution and member of its project in Taiwan, said, “The KMT is certainly going to jump at the chance to demonstrate that they can cooperate with Beijing, they can play well together.” Are.” Indo-Pacific region.

“And if in a year [Taiwanese] Elect a KMT candidate as president, cross-strait relations will improve greatly. It is clearly what they think will be the most effective pitch to voters and if Beijing helps them make that pitch that is smart from Beijing’s point of view.

He labeled the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of President Tsai Ing-wen as “separatist” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while describing the recent visit as a “smart play by Beijing” to showcase its performance. Did. Support for KMT.

The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being too confrontational with China and of attempting to portray the party as “red” – a reference to the CCP’s colours.

range of ideas

While KMT members hold a range of views – from pro-unification hardliners to moderates and those who quietly see Taiwan as de facto independent – ​​having Beijing’s ear may be its biggest trump card for voters I’ve been watching the Ukraine war with interest over the past year,

The KMT did well in local elections last year, but experts say this may be because such elections are usually decided on domestic issues rather than China policy [File: Sam Yeh/AFP]

Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan and China closer together by 2049, and has not ruled out the use of force as it overhauls its People’s Liberation Army into a formidable military force. This existential threat, combined with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, has some voters nervous, while others want to see life return to normal after further problems such as the strain of COVID-19.

“The Ukraine-Russian war has taught everyone a lesson: In war, ‘there are no winners, but everyone is losers.’ It is time for the leadership of both sides in the Taiwan Strait to focus on issues of sustenance in the post-pandemic world, said Chih-yung Ho, deputy director general of the KMT’s Department of Culture and Communications.

Experts such as Liu Fu-ku, professor and research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, agree.

He argues that the recent controversies may give the KMT the edge it needs to win back public support.

According to Liu, the Taiwan Strait could flare up further this year if new US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy makes good on a promise to visit the East Asian democracy. Recent media reports in Taiwan also suggest that Tsai may plan to visit the United States herself later this year, breaking an unspoken rule that Taiwan’s president does not meet with American officials on American soil.

Referring to electoral victories for the KMT in local elections in 2018 and 2022, Liu told Al Jazeera, “The public opinion in the last two local elections is on the move.”

“The government has made several serious mistakes that have already shaken the support of the younger generation. After the missile crisis last year – the Fourth Straits Crisis – the younger generation understands that if we do not improve things with China, Taiwan will prepare for war, ”he said.

While in China last week, Hsia and the KMT delegation met with some of China’s highest-ranking leaders, including Wang Huning, a member of the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee; Song Tao, the new head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office; and Yin Li, party secretary of Beijing.

However, these are the same officials who can be expected to end democracy in Taiwan in exactly the same way that China has done in Hong Kong, where Mass arrests and national security trials A generation of pro-democracy leaders has been wiped out. Other “autonomous” regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang remain under some of China’s strictest restrictions.

Hong Kong’s 2019 democracy movement helped propel Tsai to a second and landslide victory in 2020, as Taiwanese voters watched with alarm at developments in a region where Beijing vowed to respect Hong Kong’s independence for at least 50 years. I promised. Dubbed “one country, two systems,” the proposal was originally intended as a means for Taiwan to return to the “motherland”.

Four years ago, Tsai and the DPP rode to national office on a wave of momentum from Taiwan’s “Sunflower Movement” in 2016, which saw students occupy the island’s legislature in protest of a controversial KMT-touted trade deal which would move Taiwan closer to China. ,

Taiwan’s identity issue

In the years that followed, Taiwan’s national identity as something distinct from China strengthened.

Meanwhile, the Party membership of the KMT is age-old and often appear out of touch with young voters, which was not noticeable when the government Extended Compulsory National Service For young men aged four months to one year in the shadow of the Russo-Ukraine war.

Against that backdrop, some are skeptical of the KMT’s chances of gaining much political ground.

Wen-Tee Sung, a political scientist with the Taiwan Studies Program at the Australian National University, says that reactions to the KMT trip in Taiwan were “lukewarm” and that the entire event was overshadowed by controversy. US shoots down alleged Chinese spy balloons,

Voters may also wonder about the KMT’s ability to side with Washington, Taiwan’s chief security guarantor. As US-China relations deteriorated, the US moved closer to Taiwan over the past eight years and continued to approve significant arms sales.

Japan, Taiwan’s other major ally and hugely popular with Taiwanese, has become more publicly wary of China’s militarization and last year doubled its defense spending in response to growing threats in the Asia Pacific region.

“Taiwan is caught between the US and China and its security ultimately rests on strong ties with the US and cordial relations with Beijing. The ruling DPP has shown it can build strong ties with the US, but not China. The KMT argues that it alone can do both,” Sung said.

On this last point, he may fail, he said, by making two trips to China in two separate periods of high tensions between the US and China.

It is also unclear whether the KMT’s promises of soft power leverage will sway voters.

Despite preferring the KMT in local elections, Taiwanese voters have in the past decoupled the party’s domestic strength from its international image, giving the KMT a local victory in 2018 and a complete rejection on the national stage in 2020.

Perhaps paradoxically, the KMT’s visits should give hope to voters of all political parties in Taiwan, Templeman said, that the door to Beijing is still open, however narrowly.

Templeman said that despite the rattle on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, Beijing did not cancel direct flights to Taiwan – only since 2018 – until the global pandemic made it necessary for public health reasons.

And while it has punished Taiwan with trade sanctions, it has kept them out of the technology and semiconductor trade that would cripple the island’s economy.

“The broad point is that there is little evidence [Chinese President] Xi Jinping has abandoned the idea of ​​peaceful integration. They will stretch the ‘peaceful’ part of it, involving firing guns and rockets, maybe a little subtle coercion, but they haven’t given up on the idea that they can get to Taiwan without a full-scale invasion across the straits,” Templeman said. .

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