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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘War or peace’

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“It remains to be seen whether the Taiwanese electorate will buy the ‘War or Peace’ argument of the anti-DPP parties”

Last Friday, the elections commission in Taiwan declared the submission of candidacies for the forthcoming Jan. 13 elections closed.

Frenzied attempts by the Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party to field common candidates fizzled out.

What could have been a formidable force against the ruling DPP and its candidate, Lai Ching-te, quickly evaporated, as both KMT’s Hou and TPP’s Ko chose their vice-presidential candidates instead of forming a unified ticket.

Meanwhile, Foxconn founder Terry Gou quietly folded up his tent, and will instead likely support the KMT ticket, of which he used to be a leading supporter until he decided to try an independent run.

The most recent poll surveys show it will be a close contest between all three contenders. Nobody has a commanding lead, even the DPP’s Lai. It can yet be anybody’s game.

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Everything will depend on the campaign developments of the 50 days leading to the most internationally watched Taiwanese election since the father-and-son dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo ended with the latter’s demise.

With the Taiwan Straits heating up, with prospects of a PRC invasion and the statements of US President Joe Biden about defending Taiwan adding up to worldwide interest in the outcome, presidential elections in the island of 23.4 million inhabitants, smaller in size than Northern and Central Luzon put together, will be the cynosure of attention in our part of the world and even beyond.

It should be of greater interest to us in the Philippines, firstly due to geographical proximity, with just the Luzon Strait of less than 200 kilometers width separating us.

Second, because we are also in increasingly tense conflict with the PRC on its continued incursions into our EEZ and what we consider part of our territory, the West Philippine Sea of a larger South China Sea, the entirety of which China claims as its sole proprietary.

Third, because we have close to 180,000 Filipinos residing in Taiwan, 160,000 of which work in big and small factories in the demographically-challenged but highly prosperous island nation.

These three reasons were the given considerations in our foreign policy towards the Taiwan-China simmering conflict, until the present Marcos administration decided to add one more, and thus ‘strengthen’ our alliance with the US of A, giving it four more ‘joint’ bases in our country, three of which are in the tip of Luzon, nearest to Taiwan.

The closest two are in Santa Ana and Lal-lo, the former’s port a 13-hour boat ride through the Balintang Channel and the latter an airport about 30 minutes from Kaohsiung’s international airport.

The PRC clearly saw this as eventually for use in a war where the US would aid Taiwan, and the US claims these forward installations as ‘deterrents’ for war.

Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong recently asked why a nation and our people would wish to be a “battleground” for war, considering that we have been of late the most belligerent in defense of our territorial claims, while our ASEAN neighbors, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have been less assertive.

Lee also mentioned all claimant countries have China as its biggest trading partner. In the case of the Philippines, China’s ‘frosty’ relations have made a serious dent on our tourism arrivals, and should Beijing decide, a huge decline in economic relations as well.

And those four reasons are why we should be keenly interested in the forthcoming Taiwan elections.

The KMT has chosen to use the “War or Peace” alternative as its central message in this campaign.

Despite DPP’s Lai stating that he is against war, his background as a fierce advocate of an ‘independent Taiwan’ and his disapproval of a ‘One China-Two Systems’ modus vivendi has marked him, in the eyes of both the mainland and the ‘pece-niks’ in the island, as one whose ascent to the presidency could push simmering conflicts to the heat of actual war.

Both KMT’s Hou and TPP’s Ko are for cooperation with the mainland towards preservation of the status quo. And although Lai has been mouthing the same of late, big business and cautious Taiwanese are starting to buy “peace in our time” as the better alternative.

The US military-industrial complex loves the DPP and Lai to keep their cash registers jingling with more military build-up sales. China has been vocal against Lai, and without publicly announcing any choice, obviously could live with Hou or Ko.

This writer suspects that Pres. Xi’s recent speech in California, where he disavowed intentions of a militaristic China while making no clear disavowal of ‘re-unifying’ it into the mainland was an attempt to woo Taiwanese voters against Lai.

It remains to be seen whether the Taiwanese electorate will buy the “War or Peace” argument of the anti-DPP parties, although had unification of the opposition materialized, the so-called ‘Peace’ argument would have resounded clear and strong.

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