China watches as Taiwan chooses

China watches as Taiwan chooses

On Saturday, voters in Taiwan's presidential and parliamentary elections will choose between the Democratic People's Party (DPP), which is pro-independence and openly critical of China, and the Kuomintang (KMT), which argues for engagement with the mainland.

Of course, China isn't the only issue riling Taiwan's voters. Pocketbook issues matter here as elsewhere. But months of unrest in Hong Kong have riveted and appalled Taiwan. Some there see Hong Kong's protests and violence as evidence of the dangers of confrontation with Beijing. But many others see a concerted effort by China to stifle freedoms of speech and assembly—and a warning that closer ties with Beijing are therefore dangerous.


Taiwan's voters can hear China's President Xi Jinping's calls for Taiwan to join Hong Kong and Macau in a "one country, two systems" reunification with the mainland, a formula opposed by 89 percent of Taiwanese respondents in a poll conducted three months ago. And they can see the Shandong, China's new aircraft carrier, gliding ominously through the Taiwan Strait.

Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP will probably win re-election as president. The more interesting question is whether her party can hold onto its parliamentary majority. If it does, we can expect tough talk toward Beijing to continue. If the KMT wins a majority, tensions with China will cool as Taiwan slides into legislative gridlock.

China's leaders will be watching closely. There's nothing new about Chinese scrutiny of Taiwan's elections, but after months of global media coverage of Hong Kong's massive protests, a resounding win for pro-independence candidates in Hong Kong's local elections two months ago, intense international criticism of the imprisonment of Muslims in "re-education camps" in China's Xinjiang province, and an ongoing trade war with the United States that has weighed heavily on China's already slowing economy, President Xi is in no mood for hostile rhetoric from Taiwan.

If the DPP keeps control of both the presidency and parliament, Xi may use a variety of means—trade, investment, and perhaps even military—to gradually dial up pressure on Taiwan. If that happens, look for a reflexive response from Washington in support of Taiwan.

That would be one more source of friction in a relationship already headed in a dangerous direction.

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As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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