WHEN TAIWAN’S President Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 came to power in a landslide election victory in January 2016, her supporters viewed her victory as expressing a truth about Taiwan being a progressive society. Tsai campaigned in support of indigenous reconciliation, same-sex marriage, and social equality. She had addressed her campaign rhetoric at Taiwan’s young people and spoken of economic opportunities in a globalised economy. Tsai’s win also went against the tide of right-wing populism that has beset many democratic polities. For her supporters, especially young urban professionals, Tsai’s win signalled the indelible commitment within Taiwanese society to social progress and to coming to terms with Taiwan’s authoritarian past through openness and dialogue.
Forum: Politics with Taiwanese Characteristics
IN 2018, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) stepped up efforts to isolate Taiwan and hinder its quest for international recognition. Three countries formerly maintaining full diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (ROC) — the Dominican Republic, Burkino Faso, and El Salvador — broke these ties to establish them with the PRC, reducing Taiwan’s political allies to just seventeen worldwide. Not just a matter of chequebook diplomacy, this represents a spike in Beijing’s application of ‘sharp power’ — a term coined in a National Endowment for Democracy report in 2017, and discussed in detail in chapter 2 of the report.1 Sharp power signifies influence that ‘pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries’, particularly that deployed by authoritarian regimes to enforce their objectives abroad.