Taiwan’s existence in the modern world can seem confounding. The nation, which holds presidential elections on Saturday, is a democracy that boasts world-class universal health care and recently became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has touted direct democracy initiatives, renewable energy, and the abolition of nuclear power. In recent months, it has recruited members of progressive third parties who hope to push the traditionally centrist party to the left.
That same ruling party is also a strong friend of the Trump administration: In 2019, Taipei cheerfully hosted Sarah Sanders, Sam Brownback, and Ted Cruz and agreed to buy over $10 billion in fighter jets, tanks, and ammunition from the United States. President Tsai Ing-wen, in the thick of a reelection campaign, took to Instagram to post fan art of her grinning and standing next to Trump, who’s cradling a smiling, rose-cheeked Taiwan as F16 fighter jets ascend in the foreground.
This makes for a unique, perhaps dissonant set of considerations, and Taiwan’s voters are constantly confronting their history and defining their modern identity. The nation has long associated with the American right as a means of political survival. But its deep connection to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and the strength of its own progressive movements, have left many voters wondering why Taiwan has long been an afterthought among the global left.