Taiwan’s Path Between Extremes | Foreign Affairs


Taiwan is recognized around the world for its economic development and democratic achievements, its cutting-edge industries, and its vibrant civil society. In recent years, however, this island of 23 million people has been described in international media in darker terms. Some have called it a flashpoint that could start the next world war or even, according to The Economist, “the most dangerous place on earth.” That is because Beijing has grown increasingly assertive in its rhetoric and actions at a time when Taiwan and mainland China have no channel of communication to limit rising tensions. In the view of many observers, the equilibrium in the Taiwan Strait is in danger. If that were not enough, Taiwan also faces major internal challenges, including economic disruptions, declining birth rates, energy shortages, and the loss of factories as foreign firms restructure their supply chains.

Under my leadership, Taiwan will manage external and internal challenges with proactive pragmatism and be a responsible stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific region. A strong military will help deter aggression and keep at bay any prospect of war in the Taiwan Strait. But peace also requires dialogue, and I will seek to interact constructively with Beijing in ways consistent with the Republic of China’s constitution and its laws. That interaction will lead to de-escalation. The world does not need rashness on either side, and Taiwan will chart a course between extremes. We will work with our partners to construct a future that fosters peace, stability, and development. This is Taiwan’s vision.

A Strong Defense

My experience as Taiwan’s chief of police taught me the importance of using both offense and defense when dealing with rivals—and the essential role of negotiations. When it comes to relations across the Taiwan Strait, I have always believed both in maintaining peace while increasing dialogue and in maintaining peace through strength. But I have no unrealistic expectations about Beijing’s intentions of seeking unification, and if necessary, by force. Taiwan’s most important priority should be to strengthen its national defense and deter the use of force by mainland China. To do so, I aim to build a strong military, enhance cooperation with partners and allies, and increase our deterrence capabilities to better safeguard Taiwan and the island groups of Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu.

The balance of military power across the strait tilts heavily in favor of Beijing, and the gap continues to widen. This makes it much more challenging for our military to deter the People’s Liberation Army and keep it off the island of Taiwan. Additionally, the PLA in recent years has been deploying large numbers of aircraft and vessels for “gray zone” tactics, operations below the threshold of outright war designed to intimidate adversaries and demonstrate strength. These military and paramilitary actions have increased the risk of accidents and an unexpected conflict.

Given the disparity in military might between Taiwan and mainland China, we must build and maintain effective deterrence to make planners in Beijing wary of taking any rash actions. Taiwan must creatively use available weapons and technologies, developing innovative and asymmetric capabilities that could stymie a large and well-resourced PLA. By increasing the likely cost of any war, Taiwan can reduce its opponent’s willingness to invade. I will also continue to assess our defense needs and strengthen our capabilities through arms procurement.

A strong military will help deter aggression and keep at bay any prospect of war in the Taiwan Strait.

In response to the increasing number of gray zone actions Taiwan has endured in recent years, I will direct relevant agencies to establish an early warning system. Such a system will better anticipate PLA displays of force or gray zone behavior and help develop various contingency plans to deal with Beijing’s harassment, infiltrations, and provocations.

I will initiate structural reforms within the government in order to strengthen the public’s awareness of what is needed for all-out defense. I will establish a cabinet-level All-Out Defense Mobilization Council directly under the executive branch of government, chaired by the vice premier. This body will completely integrate defense mobilization policy across various ministries and agencies.         

And I will expand cooperation with like-minded partners. In particular, Taiwan should deepen its collaboration with the United States in various areas such as sharing intelligence and promoting regular joint training exercises. Such cooperation will strengthen mutual military interoperability to improve coordination between Taiwan’s forces and those of its partners in case of a contingency.

Peace currently reigns in the Taiwan Strait, but the status quo is unstable and the possibility of conflict is rapidly escalating. Stronger deterrence is essential for Taiwan to fend off external threats, and I will continue to invest in ensuring that such deterrence is in place. But safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy is not just a question of military deterrence. Dialogue between Taipei and Beijing is also a crucial way to defuse crises and ensure peace and stability.

A Fine Balance

Peace across the Taiwan Strait has always been a matter of maintaining a delicate equilibrium. My position is to further cross-strait relations based on the constitution of the Republic of China and its amendments. I support the 1992 Consensus, the approach to cross-strait dialogue agreed to by Taiwanese officials and counterparts from the mainland, consistent with the constitution.

I uphold Taiwan’s democratic and free political system while opposing both demands for Taiwan’s independence and any attempt to absorb the island into unification with mainland China under the guise of “one country, two systems.” I advocate for both sides to carry out official interactions based on a model of mutual nonrecognition of sovereignty and mutual nondenial of jurisdiction. Taiwan’s future will be determined only by its own people.

The majority of people in Taiwan want to maintain this status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo can be upset. During the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party, the lack of communication across the Taiwan Strait edged the situation closer to potential conflict. Many fear these circumstances are pushing Taiwan to the brink of war.

The past seven years have seen rising tensions in cross-strait relations. Repairing those relations will be tricky. It would be impossible to instantly revert to the way both sides interacted in the past. In facing my counterpart in Beijing, I would uphold our democratic and free system, strengthen national defense, deter the mainland from using force, increase cross-strait exchanges, and reduce the probability of conflicts, all to keep Taiwan away from war.

I am dedicated to avoiding recklessness in Taiwan’s policy toward mainland China.

During my presidency, I will stay committed to the sovereignty of the Republic of China and its free and democratic system. I will oppose any push for independence and insist that cross-strait differences should be resolved through peaceful means. My goal is stability in the Taiwan Strait, security for Taiwan, and peace of mind for the world.

I am dedicated to avoiding recklessness in Taiwan’s policy toward mainland China and upholding a free and democratic system. It is about urging both sides to jointly promote democracy, human rights, mutual benefits, and mutual trust. In addition, the KMT has always believed that a majority of Taiwanese do not want formal independence, that such independence will damage Taiwan’s relations with its allies and neighboring countries, and that independence will inevitably undermine regional stability. A push for de jure independence, as included in the Democratic Progressive Party platform, is an absolutely untenable strategy that must not be adopted. The KMT’s approach is not just passive in its opposition to the use of force by mainland China. It still allows the prudent strengthening and perfecting of Taiwan’s asymmetric warfare capabilities while simultaneously avoiding miscalculations and resolving any crises through cross-strait dialogue.

I propose a “three Ds” strategy to maintain stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader Indo-Pacific region: deterrence, dialogue, and de-escalation. In the interest of deterrence, Taiwan must enhance its self-defense capabilities. Taiwan has to integrate innovative thinking and its diverse resources. By being prepared for war, but not provoking it, Taiwan will make the opponent feel hesitant about its own military capabilities, thus decreasing its desire to invade. Taiwan will use strength to safeguard peace and stability across the strait.

Under my administration, any dialogue with mainland China will be in accordance with the constitution and the 1992 Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, the Taiwanese law that provides a legal framework for cross-strait relations. Drawing from successful experiences with such dialogue during past KMT governments, such as the collaborative efforts to combat crime since the 1990s that culminated in a comprehensive agreement on judicial mutual assistance signed in 2009, I will continue cross-strait communication while avoiding military miscalculations.

Continued interactions between the two sides on functional matters will help de-escalate future risks. This is what I call principled interactions on the basis of equality, goodwill, and dignity. In this way, Taiwan can enhance understanding through exchanges and ensure peace through strength. Through mid- and long-term interactions between both sides, I believe it is possible to gradually decrease hostility and reduce the risk of conflict across the Taiwan Strait—and avoid the threat of war.

Taiwan in the World

Taiwan is an important actor and needs to be a responsible force in the Indo-Pacific region. The relationship between the United States and Taiwan is of great importance, and the United States and other like-minded countries have been long-standing and essential allies to Taiwan. Our country is grateful to Washington for its arms sales and various Taiwan-friendly acts passed by Congress and signed by the White House over the years. Since the ending of diplomatic ties between the United States and the Republic of China in 1979, the substantive relationship between the two has only grown. I want to express my gratitude to our friends in various sectors in the United States for their support for Taiwan and offer my encouragement to the diplomatic personnel who tirelessly work hard for the Republic of China.

U.S.-Taiwanese relations should continue to strengthen, encompassing governmental interactions on various issues and the exchange of positive sentiments among the people. I welcome the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade, a deal agreed to earlier this year, and I hope that the United States can assist Taiwan in joining other regional trade and economic arrangements, including the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. Taiwan will continue to seek to advance trade liberalization with its partners, including by signing free trade agreements.

I insist that the Republic of China is a sovereign state. In international intergovernmental organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, it participates as an equal member alongside other countries. In the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the international community also expects meaningful participation from Taiwan. Having substantive, consistent, timely, and comprehensive participation in these international organizations is crucial for Taiwan. For example, the island should be allowed to join as an observer in the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and Interpol in the years to come.

Faced with rapidly changing global dynamics and geopolitical and economic challenges, Taiwan should not retreat from the world but instead wield its strength and influence to do more. It can be a defender of regional order and democratic values, a leader in technological innovation and digital transformation, a promoter of sustainable development and the green economy, a contributor of humanitarian aid and foreign assistance, and both a facilitator of peace and a defender of security in the Taiwan Strait.

I will not take the United States’ security support of Taiwan for granted, and I will also not cause any unnecessary trouble for our friends. Under my leadership, Taiwan will be a peacemaker committed to reducing risks. Within the framework of the constitution, we will pragmatically engage in cross-strait dialogue, creating conditions for peace and strengthening relations with the United States and Japan. Taiwan, the United States, and other like-minded countries in Asia can still further improve our relations. I also hope to continue cooperating with Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, and friends in Southeast Asia. As president, I will continue my unwavering commitment to safeguard Taiwan’s democratic achievements and ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and beyond.

The Resilient Island

Whatever the peril in its neighborhood, Taiwan also has to pay attention to its own set of domestic problems. Like many other countries, post-pandemic Taiwan faces many internal challenges. As president, I would certainly have to focus on building Taiwan’s resilience in times of uncertainty.        

Energy security is crucial to Taiwan’s survival, and even more so in the event of a military blockade or an all-out war, as Taiwan is an island. Maintaining its nuclear energy supply is extremely important since over 95 percent of Taiwan’s energy is imported and its high-tech industries require stable energy sources. Establishing energy resilience is an essential matter of national security and a necessity for economic development. Since the Democratic Progressive Party’s pledge to wind down the use of nuclear energy by 2025 is precipitous and impractical, I advocate a policy of ensuring a secure power supply with an orderly transition away from fossil fuels, prioritizing energy conservation while moving sustainably toward green energy. This approach involves gradually reducing reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and increasing the proportion of clean energy, with nuclear energy as a useful bridge to the future. Only then can Taiwan achieve its ambitious climate goals, including becoming a net-zero emitter by 2050.

I will pragmatically increase renewable energy production and effectively use existing nuclear power sources after ensuring their safety is in line with international standards. More important, I will also emphasize efficient energy conservation and the regulation of supply and demand, including through investments in energy efficiency, energy storage, and smart grids. And I will incrementally increase the share of green energy in the overall supply.

Whatever the peril in its neighborhood, Taiwan also has to address its own set of domestic problems.

Taiwan is a key player in the global semiconductor industry, and building Taiwan’s supply chain resilience will also be my focus. The Taiwan Strait is vital for global trade. In the post-pandemic era, policymakers are increasingly concerned about reducing manufacturing and transportation risks. The United States’ “friend-shoring” policy aims to enhance the resilience of global supply chains, strengthening their ability to withstand and respond to emergencies. Taiwan can play a proactive role in this initiative. In the future, Taiwanese businesses from various industries, including those that make semiconductors, will expand their global base through manufacturing or R&D investments in friendly countries. As for firms that cannot invest abroad due to their nature or their scale, the government will continue to guide them in upgrading and linking with overseas Taiwanese businesses. This will help promote the growth of all industries and benefit Taiwan’s economic development.

Regarding cybersecurity threats, the government should also strengthen Taiwan’s cyber-resilience through legislation and cooperation with the public and private sectors. This will ensure that communication lines and the chain of command are not interrupted in the event of a natural disaster or a conflict.

Like many other advanced economies, Taiwan is facing the challenges of a declining birth rate and a shrinking labor force. I advocate integrating military service and youth employment. Since 2019, New Taipei City has successfully cooperated with businesses to offer employment to men who have completed their military service. This experience can be expanded to the whole country. Issues such as access to housing, education, and childcare also concern young people and, when not addressed, work to lower the birth rate. I will communicate openly with young Taiwanese to steer our society toward positive progress.

As the mayor of New Taipei City and a presidential candidate, I have been a public servant nurtured by the government for decades and long committed to serving the people of Taiwan. Pragmatism is my motto, and people trust me, recognizing I am a strong decision-maker who delivers on his promises and plans. I will also ensure that Taiwan stands with the international community. Together, we will promote peace, stability, and development across the Indo-Pacific region.

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