Kyle Churchman is a graduate student concentrating in China studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Prior to attending SAIS, he was as a resident junior fellow at the Center for the National Interest, where he published articles on cross-strait relations, Taiwan’s domestic politics, and Chinese foreign policy for The National Interest. He previously served as a researcher for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and the National Bureau of Asian Research. He graduated magna cum laude from George Washington University with a B.A. degree in international affairs and Chinese.
Articles by Kyle Churchman
After President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her Democratic Progressive Party retained its legislative majority, COVID-19 dominated the news, further embittered cross-strait relations, and provoked a sharp confrontation over Taiwan’s involvement in the World Health Organization. Beijing conducted more military operations near the island in response to concern that Taiwan is pushing independence, and the Trump and Tsai administrations strengthened ties. The opposition Kuomintang chose a younger, reform-minded leader following the latest in a series of defeats.
President Tsai Ing-wen triumphed over her populist Kuomintang (KMT) opponent Han Kuo-yu in Taiwan’s January 11, 2020 presidential election, garnering 57.1% of the vote to Han’s 38.6%. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also retained its majority in the Legislative Yuan (LY), albeit with the loss of some seats to the KMT and third parties. While there has been considerable attention to Beijing’s influence operations, the election illustrated Beijing’s limited ability to manipulate Taiwan elections. The outcome portends continued deadlock and tension in cross-strait relations in the coming months. Meanwhile, Taipei and Washington have strengthened ties by launching a series of bilateral and multilateral cooperative projects, intended in part to counter both Beijing’s influence operations and its continuing diplomatic, economic, and military pressures on Taiwan.
The coming elections in Taiwan have shaped cross-strait relations. To a surprising degree, Hong Kong demonstrations have influenced the early campaign, helping President Tsai Ing-wen win her party’s nomination and requiring opposition candidates to reject Beijing’s “one country, two systems” more firmly than they would have otherwise. In the midst of US-China tensions, Washington has approved two major arms sales to Taiwan and taken other steps to improve US-Taiwan relations. Beijing opposes Tsai and has taken steps publicly and behind the scenes to boost the KMT’s populist candidate, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu. Beijing’s hardline response to Hong Kong demonstrations will likely continue to benefit Tsai as the election approaches in January.
The year began with General Secretary Xi Jinping and President Tsai Ing-wen making major statements that underline the fundamental gap between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Taiwan. In the face of Beijing’s continuing pressure on Taiwan, Washington and Taipei took steps to strengthen relations and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). In Congress, members proposed new measures, some of which challenge the established framework for US relations with Taiwan and China. Beijing repeatedly protested these efforts and in April sent two PLA fighters deliberately across the midline of the Taiwan Strait for the first time in 20 years in an ill-defined warning. In Taiwan, maneuvering for the 2020 elections has begun creating a confusing situation with unclear implications for cross-strait and US-Taiwan relations.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a stunning defeat in Taiwan’s November local elections. Although local issues and personalities were the focus of the campaign, cross-strait economic issues did play a role. The Kuomintang’s (KMT) revival, which improves its prospects in the 2020 legislative and presidential elections, was welcomed in Beijing. While Taipei continues to be concerned about seriously strained US-China relations, Taipei and Washington continue to strengthen their ties.
Beijing has ratcheted up pressure on President Tsai Ing-wen, while also promoting Taiwan’s integration with China. In response, Tsai has strengthened ties with major powers and modestly increased support for defense. Despite Chinese and domestic pressures, Tsai has adhered to her cross-strait policy. Taiwan’s November local elections could have implications for the 2020 presidential election and future cross-strait relations. Beijing remains concerned about US policy toward Taiwan. The Trump administration has taken steps to support Taiwan, but the president appears at times to see Taiwan as an element useful in US-China negotiations. The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) dedicated its new office building in Taiwan, but no Cabinet official participated.