Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party’s formal confirmation that Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu is going to vie for the island’s top job in the January election will be welcomed by Beijing.

But supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen have been quick to label Han’s nomination a sign that the KMT is “turning red.”

Taiwanese papers including the Liberty Times say the KMT long ago morphed into “a pro-China entity,” suggesting the KMT’s bigwigs had opted to cozy up to Beijing with the hope that the latter’s fund and heft can help secure Han’s presidency.

The DPP also alleges that the KMT’s opaque primary ensured Han’s nomination even though his major rivals – including Foxconn founder Terry Gou and former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu – enjoyed widespread support.

“The KMT is on the cusp of reverting to party-state origins before Taiwan’s liberalization in the early 1990s, which does not bother putting on airs and graces of a fair, transparent primary,” read an op-ed in the Taipei Times.

Other than the way he is nominated, analysts say diplomacy, the military and Hong Kong could also be Han’s weak underbelly even though he is still riding a wave of support according to opinion polls.

The DPP, meanwhile, is also stressing Tsai’s diplomatic and administrative reforms, which are likely to give her an edge during the polls. She is seen by many voters as more capable of protecting the Taiwanese identity and ensuring the island’s security.

Tsai has been given credit for the amicable Taiwan-US relationship, which is the best it has been in decades, and for securing more US weapons and cooperation.

If elected, Han, who has no international diplomatic experience, will have to perform a tight balancing act between Beijing and Washington.

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (left) with Wang Zhimin, Beijing’s top envoy in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

Tsai has also voiced strong support for protesters in Hong Kong who are rallying against a China extradition bill as well as Beijing’s encroachment on the city’s freedoms. In her many speeches and tweets, Tsai has admonished Xi Jinping for failing to honor promises made to Hong Kong.

Han, by contrast, met with the city’s deeply unpopular leader Carrie Lam and Beijing’s envoy when visiting the city earlier this year. His trip to the former British colony and his meetings and banquets with politicians there have been seen as a tacit endorsement of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” offer for Taiwan. When asked to comment on the situation in Hong Kong, he merely said he hoped the tensions would ease but his focus would be on Taiwan affairs.

Moreover, Han and KMT chairman Wu Den-yih have both said they will sign a cross-strait peace agreement with Beijing if the party returns to power, a document that critics say would be tantamount to a “reunification treaty” to acknowledge the self-ruled island as being part of China in exchange for Beijing dropping its plan for a military takeover.

“The KMT and Han should clearly explain what they support, what their China policy is and what their views on Taiwan’s sovereignty are,” said Tsai when asked for her opinion on her competitor’s stance in New York at the end of last month. Tsai warned that Taiwan could suffer the same fate as Hong Kong, Tibet or Xinjiang if Han was elected president.

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