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Taiwan Fate on the Line as Elections Threaten China Relations

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The bombshell selection of Taiwan’s former US envoy, Hsiao Bi-khim, as the running mate to the ruling DPP’s presidential contender Lai Ching-te rockets Taiwan onto a collision course with an increasingly aggressive China.

Hsiao’s deep US ties enrage Beijing but strengthen Taiwan’s defiant stance amid escalating intimidation.

With battle lines drawn, the stage is set for a showdown between resistance and reconciliation. The opposition courts China, but risks sacrificing hard-won sovereignty.

Meanwhile, wildcards like Terry Gou threaten to torpedo the opposition, boosting the prospects of the pro-independence alliance.

Taiwan finds itself at an historic crossroads as the election hurtles toward a date with destiny. The island’s future trajectory hangs in the balance between an ascendant superpower and established democracy. 

Will Taiwan bow to threats or embrace its independent spirit?

The selection of Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s former envoy to the United States, as the running mate of presidential candidate Lai Ching-te signals a clear steer in the direction of strengthening ties with the US in the face of increasing pressure from China. 

Hsiao Bi-khim is considered by many in Washington to be an adept and politically well-connected diplomat. During her three year tenure as Taiwan’s representative in the US, she has fostered an unprecedented level of trust between the two countries. 

Major accomplishments under Hsiao’s ambassadorship include the US Senate approving substantial $4.5 billion security aid for Taiwan over four years. Selecting Hsiao as the vice presidential candidate, despite China viewing her as strongly favoring Taiwan’s independence, represents a bold stand against Beijing’s escalating military and political intimidation tactics.

Hsiao’s nickname as a “cat warrior” underscores her delicate diplomatic style aimed at advancing Taiwan’s interests. As she stated, “diplomacy is like a cat’s step – you have to be careful in every step you take,” similar to operating in a “complicated strategic environment to maximize Taiwan-US relations.” 

This contrasts with China’s more aggressive “wolf warrior diplomacy.” Having Hsiao join the ticket sends a message that Taiwan will respond to China’s hostility with sly, calculated diplomacy rather than rash confrontation.

Lai emphasized the need for “a stable helmsman” with Hsiao as his running mate, signaling a steady hand at the wheel despite choppy waters caused by China. Hsiao’s deep connections in Washington make her well-suited to further strengthening the Taiwan-US alliance. 

Her experience navigating complex diplomatic waters equips her to help guide Taiwan’s strategic interests. Choosing the US envoy as VP pick shows Taiwan actively cultivating US ties to counter an increasingly aggressive China.

The selection of Hsiao as vice presidential candidate underscores a determination to counter China’s intimidation through deeper American ties. 

As political scientist Chang Chun-hao stated, the Lai-Hsiao ticket “can create a powerful effect in anti-China and pro-US issues.” To voters, they symbolize resisting Beijing’s pressure and promoting Taiwanese sovereignty.

Hsiao is not merely an advocate of independence – she is seen as having extensive connections in Washington that can attract further US support. 

As Raymond Kuo of the RAND Corporation noted, she will likely be “a consistent, moderate voice” promoting security cooperation and diplomacy with America. 

This strong alliance is anathema to China, who blasted the pairing without elaboration as threatening cross-strait relations.

Beijing sees Hsiao as an “independence diehard” and has already sanctioned her twice in efforts to undermine her legitimacy. 

It is unsurprising that China has levied sanctions against those it sees as opposing its interests and claims over Taiwan. For Beijing, imposing sanctions on officials, organizations, and entities that strengthen Taiwan’s sovereignty or deepen its ties with the United States has become routine practice.

China has previously imposed sanctions prohibiting Hsiao, along with her family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. The sanctions also bar any Chinese entities from cooperating with organizations associated with Hsiao.

These sanctions came on the heels of Hsiao facilitating a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a US stopover. To China, this represents unacceptable collusion with American leaders to promote Taiwan’s independence.

Beijing also sanctioned the Prospect Foundation, headed by a former Taiwanese foreign minister, and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats which Taiwan’s ruling DPP co-founded. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused both groups of spreading the idea of “Taiwan independence” globally.

The rationale behind these sanctions is to punish and delegitimize voices Beijing sees as explicitly advocating Taiwan’s sovereignty and undermining China’s territorial claims. By labeling Hsiao an “independence diehard,” China aims to paint her as a radical separatist. This follows a previous round of sanctions after Pelosi’s Taiwan visit.

While the sanctions have minimal practical impact, they demonstrate China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” tactics to intimidate Taiwan’s leaders. 

By coercing and threatening those who strengthen US-Taiwan ties and support the island’s self-determination, Beijing hopes to obstruct Taiwan’s international space. 

The pro-Beijing KMT party has also criticized the Lai-Hsiao alliance, pledging warmer China relations if elected. This reflects the opposing positions between parties on Taiwan’s status. For China, isolating Hsiao and Lai through sanctions and condemnation is a strategy to cast them as radical.

But the Lai-Hsiao platform resonates with many Taiwanese seeking to resist Chinese aggression through American deterrence. 

Hsiao’s Washington connections make her an ideal running mate to secure US support. While Beijing will likely ramp up pressure, the ticket represents Taiwan’s growing embrace of its sovereignty and resistance identity in the face of Chinese threats.

While the incumbent DPP’s ticket of Lai Ching-te and Hsiao Bi-khim favors resisting Chinese pressure and strengthening ties with the US, The potential unified KMT-TPP ticket in a stark contrast wants to restart engagement with Beijing. 

KMT’s Hou Yu-ih has vowed to renew dialogue if elected, saying rival Lai dangerously supports independence. The KMT-TPP alliance believes cooperating with China is in Taiwan’s interests.

Whereas the DPP advocates safeguarding Taiwan’s sovereignty, the KMT-TPP claims Lai and Hsiao will dangerously provoke China. These contrasting platforms underscore the debate within Taiwan on how to manage relations with an increasingly threatening China.

While some polls suggest a united KMT-TPP could defeat the DPP, sticking points remain in their negotiations over who tops the ticket. But the KMT stresses “uniting” against the DPP’s platform of defiance against Beijing.

On the other hand, Foxconn founder Terry Gou’s entry as an independent candidate adds a new dynamic that could unintentionally aid Lai’s campaign. 

Gou advocates building closer cross-strait ties with China, aligning him closely with opposition candidates like Ko Wen-je and Hou You-yi. This risks splitting the opposition vote between similar contenders focused on engagement with Beijing. 

Conversely, Lai’s stance defending Taiwan’s sovereignty stands distinctly apart. With the opposition fractured, Gou’s candidacy could benefit Lai by preventing a unified challenger.

Additionally, Gou’s controversial business record as head of Foxconn, which faces criticism over manufacturing practices in China, makes him unlikely to siphon support from Lai’s base. 

His choice of Tammy Lai as a running mate who recently reunited with her US citizenship also raises doubts about Gou’s intentions, differentiating him further from Lai’s platform upholding Taiwan’s autonomy. 

Even if Gou polls poorly, he could play “kingmaker” by throwing his support to another opposition candidate later on to form a broad coalition against Lai.

Yet given the fluid nature of political allegiances, Gou could also eventually align with Lai to secure an influential role in the new government. With China tensions elevated, Gou dropping out to back Lai could contribute to a peaceful transition by reopening cross-strait communication channels.

But this demonstrates the unpredictability around Gou’s motivations. Ultimately, even commanding 5-10% of votes could push Lai over the top by drawing opposition away. So while Gou’s impact remains murky, his candidacy paradoxically introduces dynamics that could aid Lai absent a united challenger.

Taiwan now appears to be at a crossroads, with the upcoming elections shaping its future relations and standing with both the United States and China.

The Lai-Hsiao alliance represents a defiant stance against Beijing’s aggression by strengthening ties with Washington. Their platform aims to safeguard Taiwan’s hard-won sovereignty and democracy in the face of Chinese intimidation. Electing this alliance would signal Taiwan’s embrace of its independent identity.

Conversely, opposition parties favor restarting engagement with China. Their victory could chart a more conciliatory course aimed at reducing tensions, but risks undermining US support and Taiwanese self-determination. Their divergence underscores the debate within Taiwan on managing an increasingly assertive China.

China has sought to isolate and punish those like Hsiao who strengthen US-Taiwan relations through sanctions and bellicose rhetoric. But this only rallies many Taiwanese to the DPP’s platform. Meanwhile, Terry Gou’s unpredictable candidacy could fracture the opposition and aid Lai.

Ultimately, the election outcome will set Taiwan’s trajectory regarding its critical relationships with dueling superpowers. The results will reverberate far beyond the island as Taiwan stands poised between deepening its alignment with the US or making accommodations with its giant neighbor. The people’s voice at the ballot box will determine whether Taiwan continues down the path of defiance or conciliation.

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