How Taiwanese elections challenge China’s Communist Party

If free and fair national elections are regarded as a defining characteristic of a democratic nation, then Taiwan has much to be proud of.

The eighth presidential election was conducted in January on the self-governing island, coinciding with a parliamentary vote.

China, situated a mere 160 kilometres (100 miles) across the Strait of Taiwan, has been governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) since 1949. While the CPC frequently asserts that it administers a democratic state, Taiwan’s electoral system is incomparable.

“Whole-process people’s democracy” is the term used by Chinese President Xi Jinping to characterise the country’s political system, in which the “people are the masters” but the party-state apparatus manages their affairs.

Shanghai-based entrepreneur Ken Cai, 35 years old, holds a different view regarding Xi’s conception of democracy.

Ken stated, “The reality is that the people of mainland China have never had the right to elect their own leaders.”

“That is merely propagandistic”

Ken’s scathing evaluation presents a stark juxtaposition to a recurrent claim put forth by the CPC that the Chinese people find their one-party system to be satisfactory.

President Xi has consistently asserted that China’s development trajectory is unprecedented, attributable to its unique system of governance. In addition, Chinese authorities have asserted that criticisms regarding Beijing’s human rights and democracy record stem from ignorance of China and its citizens.

The fact that Taiwan has successfully hosted multiparty elections contradicts Beijing’s claim that liberal democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture.

Simultaneously, Xi’s vision of a resurrected Chinese nation firmly under the control of the CPC and a stray Taiwan eventually united with the Chinese mainland conflicts with Taiwan’s liberal democratic system.

Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian, on China’s foreign policy at the National University of Singapore, asserted that the Taiwanese experience vehemently refutes the CPC narrative.

The democratic example being set by Taiwan may serve as a more direct source of inspiration for the people of mainland China, making Taiwanese elections a far more sensitive subject for Beijing than elections in other democracies, according to Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at the advocacy group Freedom House in the United States.

Wang stated that when one observes that members of their own in-group have democracy and the ability to elect their leaders, it can be especially discouraging to see their own leaders not elected.

She continued, “This renders Taiwanese elections a threat to the CPC.”

Election censorship in Taiwan by China

It is unsurprising that the Chinese government refrained from extending congratulations to Taiwan on the successful conclusion of its elections, in contrast to leaders from Japan, the Philippines, and the United States.

Diplomatic ties between China and Taiwan have deteriorated significantly since the election of the outgoing president, Tsai Ing-wen, in 2016.

Tsai, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members including William Lai Ching-te, her replacement president-elect, and others are viewed by the CPC as separatists supported by foreign interests. The CPC has not ruled out the use of force in its future endeavours to unite Taiwan with China.

Chen Binhua, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) in Beijing, stated that the DPP’s loss of its parliamentary majority and Lai’s 40 percent vote share demonstrated that the party “cannot represent mainstream public opinion on the island” and that the outcome “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.”

Many Chinese citizens responded to Chen’s remarks on social media by emphasising Beijing’s democratic credentials.

One user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo remarked, “Enough already โ€“ how can you criticise the elections of others when you can’t even hold elections at home?”

“Therefore, dominant public opinion is not represented in a general election? What sort of novel comprehension does this represent?” Another comment read, and a third explicitly criticised the Taiwan Affairs Office of Beijing. “[TAO] is the most abhorrent, ineffective, and worthless government agency.”

Censorship has since eliminated all three of the comments.

Ailene Long, a translator of 31 years old residing in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, stated that criticisms of Taiwan’s election were laughable in comparison to the systemic flaws in China.

Ailene stated, “You cannot inquire about public opinion in Taiwan when individuals in China have never been permitted to vote for a political party other than the Communist Party.”

Wang of Freedom House noted an abundance of similar Chinese responses that surfaced on Chinese social media platforms as soon as the results of the Taiwanese election became available.

“However, many of them were swiftly eliminated; within a few minutes, a significant number of them vanished,” she explained.

The state’s extensive censorship apparatus intermittently removed from Chinese social media hashtags, remarks, and news pertaining to the Taiwanese election. In addition to the stringent censorship, indications emerged that the Chinese authorities attempted to quell interest on Chinese social media on the day of the Taiwanese election by inflating alternative hashtags.

Wang asserts that the authorities employed these measures to stifle public criticism; however, the underlying sentiment continued to be dissatisfaction with the Beijing administration.

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