As new year celebrations begin, The News Lens looks back at the news stories that dominated 2022 in Taiwan and the region.

Three years into the pandemic, Taiwan started gradually easing Covid-19 measures in April and effectively lifted all entry restrictions in October after more than two-and-a-half years of quarantine on arrival. The path to living with the virus was in stark contrast with China’s draconian “zero-Covid” policy, which sent thousands of protesters to the streets of major cities this fall.


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Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, November 27, 2022.

The demonstrations, known as the “A4 revolution” for the sheets of white paper held by protesters, represented some of the strongest expressions of public unrest and dissatisfaction with the Chinese Communist Party since the Tiananmen protests in 1989. They also posed a serious public challenge to Xi Jinping since he cemented his power by securing an unprecedented third term as the leader of the party. While China’s abrupt decision to relax stringent Covid-19 measures were considered a victory for the protesters, experts said that Xi could seek to distract the public by doubling down on his goal to annex Taiwan.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, China has been watching closely how Western governments react, in all likelihood taking this into account in its plans to invade Taiwan. At the same time, mainstream media have drawn parallels between the geo-political situations of Taiwan and Ukraine, both of which live under the constant threat of an authoritarian neighbor. Such similarity gave birth to a sense of solidarity that brought Taiwanese and Ukrainian people together to protest against Russia’s actions. The war also sparked interest among Taiwanese to take up civil defense training.

In August, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, becoming the highest ranking American official to set foot in the country in a quarter century. Beijing responded with military drills in Taiwan’s vicinity, as well as threats to retaliate against the United States. When China sent 71 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in the last week of 2022, it said it was a reaction to “provocations” and “collusion” between the U.S. and Taiwan. The Chinese army staged more than 1,700 incursions into Taiwan’s sky in 2022, double those of 2021, according to AFP.

Defying China’s opposition, lawmakers and government officials around the world have been normalizing their visits to Taiwan. American, European, and Japanese delegations made their way to the country one after another in an effort to show their support for or deepen ties with Taiwan.


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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, and Taiwanese President President Tsai Ing-wen wave during a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

A flurry of high-level visits by foreign leaders since 2020 has pushed Taiwan’s international presence to new highs, but it will not in itself ward off a Chinese invasion. In late December, President Tsai Ing-wen, who has made defense a focus of her policy agenda, announced that the current four-month compulsory military service will be extended to a year from 2024, with the compensation of conscripts increased to the level of the minimum wage. The defense budget for 2023 proposed by the Cabinet will also rise by 13.9%, making it 2.4% of the GDP. In terms of self defense strategy, Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, former Chief of Staff and a potential candidate for the next Minister of Defense, has developed the “Overall Defense Concept,” which focuses on asymmetric capabilities to deter Chinese aggressions.

A day following Tsai’s announcement, the Biden administration approved the eighth arms sale, worth $180 million, to Taiwan. The move came after President Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which included the establishment of a modern training program for Taiwan.

In yet another sign of closer Taiwan-U.S. relations in the same month, Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC announced plans to construct a second fabrication plant in Arizona as Washington sought to cut China off from its supply of semiconductor technology. In June, the two countries launched a new pact which would boost bilateral digital and clean energy trade. Taipei and Washington would open talks to further technology trade, according to a U.S. official.

In recent years, Beijing has repeatedly attempted to sway Taiwanese politics through economic means, notably by placing import bans on Taiwanese goods. Following the ban on pineapples last year, China imposed an embargo on groupers in June and added other seafood as well as some beverage products to the list in December after Taiwan’s local elections. Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government might take the case to the World Trade Organization.


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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at a news conference on new measures to reinforce civil defense amid the rising China military threat in Taipei, Taiwan, December 27, 2022.

In the elections in November, the governing Democratic Progressive Party suffered a major defeat, losing seven cities and counties to the opposition. The DPP managed to capture just five out of Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties, all strongholds in the south. Chiang Wan-an, a former KMT lawmaker and the great grandson of Chiang Kai-shek, prevailed over former Health minister Chen Shih-chung in Taipei’s mayoral race. In a separate vote, Taiwanese citizens did not pass the proposal for a constitutional amendment that would lower the voting age from 20 to 18.

President Tsai stepped down as the head of the DPP again (in 2018 following the devastating results of local elections) to shoulder the responsibility of the loss, citing that she had handpicked candidates in key races. Observers and DPP politicians believed the plagiarism scandal involving former Hsinchu mayor Lin Chih-chien might have led to the defeat.

For the DPP, however, 2022 wasn’t all disappointment. At the beginning of the year, independent lawmaker Freddy Lim, a DPP ally, survived a recall vote, and the party won one more seat in the parliament after Lin Ching-yi defeated the KMT’s Yen Kuan-heng, who hailed from an influential political family in rural Taichung, in a by-election.

After the midterm elections, all eyes are now on the general elections scheduled at the start of 2024. While Vice President Lai Ching-te is set to run for president for the DPP, the candidacy for the KMT is still up for grabs, with New Taipei Mayor Hou You-yi the likely winner. Other key players in the race could include former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je and Foxconn founder Terry Gou.

READ NEXT: Overall Defense Concept Reshapes Taiwan’s Views on Defense Against China

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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