The 'beautiful island' speaks: Stuart Vogel discusses the recent Taiwanese presidential election.

AuthorVogel, Stuart

The significance of the recent elections for the president and Legislative Yuan in Taiwan was lost on the New Zealand media. Taiwan has undergone a peaceful transition from dictatorship to an effective democracy. Taiwan is a stable trading partner and the Taiwanese community is an important sector in the New Zealand population. The cooling of the Chinese economy has meant that diversification and expansion of economic relationships are common interests, as is the need the strengthening of international law for peaceful resolution of territorial claims. The tangata whenua of Aotearoa/New Zealand are related to some of the indigenous tribes of Taiwan. The development of the relationships of our indigenous peoples is vital for their self-identity.


For many New Zealanders, Taiwan is a place that rarely enters their consciousness. It is a small island far, far away in the North Pacific. There was little coverage in the New Zealand media of the elections for the Taiwanese president and legislature, which were held on 16 January 2016. At first sight, this lack of coverage is not surprising. New Zealand does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, because of the People's Republic of China's longstanding 'One-China policy'. This policy requires us to choose to recognise diplomatically either 'Mainland China' or Taiwan, the Republic of China.

Nevertheless, the peaceful transition in Taiwan from a single party dictatorship and martial law in 1986 through to this election result in 2016 is remarkable and demands a response. For only the second time since 1996, when elections began, the KMT, or Kuomingtang Party, has lost the campaign for the presidency. Moreover, for the first time, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has an absolute majority in the Legisative Yuan. Its presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, won with 56 per cent of the vote. Tsai, who holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics, is the island's first woman president. Unlike President Park Geun-hye in South Korea, she has risen to the presidency without connections to a powerful male dynasty.

Despite the lack of media coverage and apparent interest, Taiwan is becoming increasingly significant to New Zealand. It is New Zealand's twelfth largest export partner. Total trade in goods amounts to $1.8 billion. The island is New Zealand's third largest overseas market for beef and the fourth largest for fruit. The signing of the recent free trade agreement in 2013 has...

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