Concern is growing in Taiwan over potential influence exerted from Beijing in the 15 cities and counties in control of the Kuomintang after the island nation’s opposition party won big in mayoral and county magistrate elections last weekend.

The Kuomintang’s principal political platform, like Beijing’s, is built on a belief that Taiwan and the mainland belong to one China. With the Kuomintang enjoying new power across Taiwan, some fear that Beijing may promote more city-to-city cross-Strait exchanges or use political common ground to infiltrate the self-governed island.

The 15 cities and counties now under the KMT’s control include Kaohsiung, Taichung and Yunlin, traditional bases of the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. Together, residents in these cities make up about 80% of the island’s total population.

Newly elected mayors and county magistrates are to take office on December 25.

If Beijing can further increase its sway via new local governments to be formed by the KMT, it will be in a better position to exert influence over the 2020 presidential race to expel President Tsai Ing-wen from office or stave off whoever the DPP fields.

“We are likely to see more collaboration between Beijing and KMT-run local governments to undermine the authority and effectiveness of the DPP central government … and Beijing may infiltrate the island with a ‘bottom-up’ approach,” an observer with the think-tank Cross-Strait Policy Association told a seminar in Taipei on Monday.

Political commentators are calling for the Tsai administration to formulate countermeasures to avoid being marginalized if Beijing and KMT mayors and county magistrates work together.

Also, the island’s capital city of Taipei may see more cross-Strait exchanges and an increase in Beijing’s influence on local governance, even though the KMT candidate lost the race to the incumbent mayor by only a few thousand votes.

Taipei’s municipal government confirmed on Monday that an annual forum between Taipei and Shanghai would take place in the city as planned.

Taipei’s re-elected Mayor Ko Wen-je has invited his Shanghai counterpart Ying Yong, who is also a deputy secretary of the Communist Party commission in the mainland city, to visit Taipei in December and attend the forum as an official guest.

Screenshot 2018-11-27 at 2.24.19 PM
Ko Wen-je (left) met Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong during his second trip to the mainland city in 2017. Photo: Handout

Ko, an independent politician without party affiliation, enjoyed backing from the DPP in the 2014 election, but in recent years has been seen to be courting Beijing.

He visited Shanghai to speak at the forum in 2015 despite strong opposition from his core aides and supporters. In response, Ko lambasted what he called the “widespread politicizing of non-political exchanges.” He visited Shanghai again last year.

The two cities have been taking turns to host the forum since 2010.

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