Hong Kong And China Loom Large As Taiwan Gears Up For Elections The tense China relationship and Hong Kong protests are big issues for Taiwan as it prepares to vote in January.
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As Taiwan's Election Race Heats Up, China Weighs On Voters' Minds

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As Taiwan's Election Race Heats Up, China Weighs On Voters' Minds

As Taiwan's Election Race Heats Up, China Weighs On Voters' Minds

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Protesters in Hong Kong have been out on the streets for six months now. And close by, Taiwan is watching carefully. It's election season there. They go to the polls on January 11 to elect their president and legislature. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng went to the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, to explore the long shadow Hong Kong's turmoil has cast.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AMBIENCE)

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: This is a presidential campaign rally, Taiwan-style. A procession of rallygoers beat drums and wave umbrellas shaped like lotuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AMBIENCE)

FENG: The guest of honor today at this Hakka temple is Han Kuo-yu, the presidential nominee for the Kuomintang, or the KMT Party. It historically leans pro-Beijing. And the topic on everyone's mind - what to do about China. Han Kuo-yu gives a speech promising to keep Taiwan safe, in part by not provoking Beijing.

HAN KUO-YU: (Through interpreter) My opponents relentlessly use Taiwan independence as a way to negate China, but Taiwan and Beijing are one family.

FENG: Taiwan considers itself independent of Beijing, a position Beijing vehemently rejects. Han is controversial for welcoming closer ties with Beijing. Many KMT supporters have family who were born in mainland China and then fled to Taiwan when the KMT lost to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

Even now, rallygoers like this one welcome Chinese rule. He only gave his last name, He, because of the political sensitivity around this year's elections.

HE: (Through interpreter) If Taiwan has a prosperous economy, mainland China won't dare to interfere with Taiwan. I'm not afraid of unification with China. If it lets the people live safely and happily, what's wrong with unification?

FENG: But the party in power now, the independence-leading Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, warns Beijing is acting on false pretenses. Beijing hopes one day to unify Taiwan, perhaps even through military invasion. And one possible way Beijing could govern Taiwan is how it currently rules Hong Kong. There's something called the one country, two systems model. It's where Hong Kong is a part of China but is supposed to enjoy some political autonomy until 2047.

FREDDY LIM: Hong Kong issue shows to Taiwanese people that - what one country, two system is about.

FENG: Freddy Lim is a death-metal rocker turned co-founder of one of Taiwan's most liberal political parties, the activist New Power Party. He sees the erosion of civil liberties under Chinese rule in Hong Kong as a harbinger for what Taiwan could become if it does not resist Chinese Communist Party influence.

LIM: Not just because that - we are very close to Hong Kong - we have so many Hong Kong friends, and we feel so close to what's happened there. But also, we can feel the reflection on our own situation.

FENG: But being a democracy, Taiwan has many dissenting voices.

CHANG AN-LO: (Through interpreter) When China unifies Taiwan, either violently or peacefully, do you want military rule or one country, two systems? One country, two systems is still best for Taiwan.

FENG: This is Chang An-lo. A former mob boss turned politician, he is at the far end of the spectrum, advocating Taiwan's complete unification with mainland China. He once helped lead one of Taiwan's biggest gangs, the Bamboo Union. Now he heads a party which nominates no candidates of its own but backs every pro-Beijing KMT candidate that runs.

CHANG: (Through interpreter) How could an economy of 1.4 billion people be bad for Taiwan? And what's wrong with returning to China, as we are all Chinese?

FENG: But the latest polling data tells otherwise. It shows the island's residents feel increasingly Taiwanese, not Chinese. Only about 10% are in favor of unification with mainland China at some point.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: A speaker blares campaign slogans for this majority-party candidate.

CHI-CHENG LUO: My name's Chi-cheng Luo.

FENG: Luo is a legislator running for reelection, and he thinks Taiwanese voters will continue to become more distant from Beijing.

LUO: Young people do pay a lot of attention to what happens in Hong Kong because in the future, the so-called one country, two system model can be forced to be accepted by Taiwan.

FENG: Young Taiwanese voters are more invested in Hong Kong and Taiwanese democracy because they feel their future depends on it, says Luo. And young people, he notes, have a longer time to live, and thus more opportunities to vote.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei, Taiwan.

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