Taiwan election 2024: The three presidential candidates’ views about relations with China

Taiwan’s three presidential candidates William Lai Ching-te (left) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Hou Yu-ih of Kuomintang, and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party. HKFP's photo collage: sourced from election campaign social media accounts.

This report was written by Han Tse and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on January 6, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.

Taiwan’s presidential election on January 13 will shape the future of the self-ruled democratic island, from relations with China and the United States to domestic issues that affect the livelihood of its 23 million people.

Opinion polls are currently led by Vice President William Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), followed by Hou Yu-ih of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). The winner of the presidential vote will succeed the DPP’s outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, who became the island’s first female leader in 2016 and won re-election in 2020, but is constitutionally barred from pursuing a third term.

Voters will also decide all 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, in which the majority is currently held by the DPP.

If Lai wins on Saturday, it will be a historic third term in power for the ruling DPP, dubbed the green camp. Since the island began holding democratic elections in 1996, the presidency has rotated between the KMT (the blue camp), and the DPP.

In the only televised presidential debate, held on December 31, 2023, the three candidates clashed over their positions on relations with China. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be united with mainland China — by force, if necessary.

Hou and Ko took turns to challenge Lai and the DPP’s China policy, which they said had strained cross-strait relations and threatened peace. Lai rebutted the accusations and said his opponents’ approaches would fail to protect Taiwan’s democracy.

Here is a brief look at the three presidential candidates and what is at stake in the parliamentary election.

William Lai Ching-te (DPP)

Lai, the frontrunner, is currently vice president under Tsai. Four years ago, he unsuccessfully challenged her in the presidential primary, later becoming her running mate. Tsai and Lai eventually beat their main rival, the pro-Beijing Han Kuo-yu of the KMT, taking a record 57.1 per cent or 8.17 million votes.

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