Taiwan’s KMT hopes for elections boost after China trip

Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has wrapped up a nine-day trip to China, including meetings with some of the Communist Party’s highest-ranking officials, amid hopes its links with Beijing will help boost its chances in presidential elections that are due to be held next year.

Known as the party with the best working relationship with Beijing, the KMT’s close relationship is a sore spot among more nationalist-minded voters on the self-ruled island, but it is also a draw for the business community and older voters who still feel a strong cultural and political affinity for China.

The trip marks the second visit in 12 months by KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia, who also visited China in August 2022 as tensions between Beijing and self-ruled Taiwan rose to their highest in 25 years. Held days after Beijing staged military exercises and fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in protest at a visit by then United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to the democratic island, Hsia’s August trip was highly controversial.

So was this one, earning a rebuke from Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the body that oversees Taipei’s relations with Beijing. China claims the island as its own.

Analysts say the KMT may be banking on voter fatigue for the drama of the past year, which also saw Beijing send a record number of flights into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone — an area of land and sea monitored by the military — to intimidate Taiwan.

“The KMT, of course, is going to jump at the chance to demonstrate that they can cooperate with Beijing they can play nice together,” said Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at the US Hoover Institution and a member of its Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region.

“And if in a year [Taiwanese] elect a KMT candidate as president, cross-strait relations will improve a lot. That’s clearly what they think will be the most effective pitch to voters and if Beijing helps them make that pitch that’s smart from Beijing’s perspective.”

He described the recent trip as a “smart play by Beijing” to try and undermine the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, dubbed a “separatist” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while also demonstrating its support for the KMT.

The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being too confrontational with China, and of trying to paint the party as “red” — a reference to the colours of the CCP.