The Guardian • Issue #2084

Taiwan elections: butter before guns

Taiwan in China's flag.

Graphic: Garoth Ursuul –

The level of excitement from the USA, Australia and the shrinking clutch of anti-China states about the Taiwanese election is perturbing but hardly surprising. The pro-separatist ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) polled just 40 per cent of the vote. This was described as a victory for ‘democracy’ and a rebuff to China.

Immediately following the election, the leadership of Taiwan resumed its rhetoric about the threat from China and being ready to repel any invasion. The economy is in crisis but it seems a policy of ‘guns before butter’ is to remain the order of the day.

The fact that two rival parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), who both campaigned around improving dialogue with China, received 60 per cent was conveniently overlooked. What the bourgeois media focused on was how the result was viewed in Beijing.

The West feigned outrage at what they saw as veiled threats from China. What the Chinese actually said, and have consistently said, is that the election was of little concern as it was a ‘regional’ election. Taiwan is a province of China. Beijing criticised Washington for its hypocritical stance and cautioned the West and Taiwan about secessionist movements.

The hypocrisy was clear. The USA, and Australia are among 180 United Nations member states that recognise China as the sole legitimate voice of China and accept the ‘one-China’ reality. To support any separatist position for Taiwan is to deny the very position that the USA adopted in 1979 when it withdrew recognition of Taiwan in favour of China. This recognition, as far as the US is concerned, acknowledges China’s legitimate claims to sovereignty while ‘not endorsing’ such claims. It is a deliberately obscure position that permits the arming of the island, and allows US presidents to make claims that it would use its military force to ‘protect’ Taiwan from aggression. It is no surprise that China regards this as a threatening posture.

The 180 member states of the UN that recognise China’s sovereignty were joined by Nauru, just days after the election. Nauru’s acceptance of the undeniable fact that Beijing is the legitimate capital of one China leaves just 12 states that remain blind to that simple reality. The 12 are, Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu and the Vatican. This does not suggest that Taiwan does not enjoy much patronage from more powerful states and especially from the imperialist powers.

The anti-China pressure that has been relentlessly applied by the USA and its allies has increasingly revolved around Taiwan. It is a campaign that has economic as well as military features. It has been a campaign that seeks to confuse the people of the world. It seeks to present China as a coercive, expansionist, aggressive force. China makes the repeated statement that Taiwan is a province of China. The West manipulates this historical and legal fact to ‘prove’ China’s aggressive intent.

Taiwan has recently acquired US armaments worth billions of dollars. The US is keen to see nuclear-capable missiles deployed to Taiwan as part of its encirclement of China. NATO is seeking to expand into the region. Provocations from US and Australian naval vessels and aircraft are becoming a regular feature. There is also the economic war.

Recently a ‘Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act’ was introduced to the United States House of Representatives. Its stated purpose is to advocate for Taiwan’s membership of the International Monetary Fund, thereby further seeking to legitimise the regime and to elevate it to something more than a quasi-state.

The people of Taiwan might be wise to be wary of IMF membership. Support packages for troubled economies from the IMF inevitably come with strings attached. Those strings are linked to slashing of social spending, austerity measures and a reduction of any economic or social independence. How it would play out in a ‘state that is not a state’ would remain to be seen. Taiwan’s economic health is not good, despite its wealthy patron in the USA.

The economy is in recession. Growth is set to be slow. Wealth inequality is high and rising. The rate of profit on capital outlay was 13 per cent in 1960. Today it is just 6 per cent.

Its economy has become all but completely dependent on semi-conductors and electronics. These exports account for 40 per cent of the island’s total GDP and 70 per cent of its total exports. The problem with a ‘one-crop’ economy is obvious. This is made even more problematic when considered against the backdrop of continual threat of conflict.

Taiwan’s position at the top of the chip-chain is under serious threat. The US has decreed that those exports be restricted. This has meant shifting production offshore to Japan, Germany, and the USA itself. This will further weaken an already struggling domestic economy. Trade and investment between China and Taiwan have taken a hit, as a direct result of the manipulation by the United States.

The election in Taiwan reflects all of this. There are the realities of geopolitics and there are the day-to-day economic issues that affect the people.

Fully 60 per cent of the population voted to find a way to enjoy better relations with Beijing. This does not, of itself mean that 60 per cent want reunification, although many do. It means that the majority want to avoid the calamity of secessionist, separation-talk and the sabre rattling that is being encouraged by the right in Taiwan and their backers in Washington.

The figures for the legislature are even more revealing. The DPP went to the polls with a majority. They had 61 seats to the KMT’s 38. Today the DPP has 52 seats and the KMT 51. The allies of the KMT in the TPP have a further eight seats. The motivations for the change in legislative voting was clearly based on economic realities. American missiles and the talking up of potential threats might make good headlines and offer good photo-ops, but more and more Taiwanese are recognising that butter should come before guns.

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