Pro-China veteran James Soong's Taiwan election bid deals blow to Beijing

People First Party Chairman James Soong (left) announced that he plans to make a fourth bid for Taiwan's presidency, along with running mate, former president of United Communication Group Yu Xiang, on Nov 13, 2019.
People First Party Chairman James Soong (left) announced that he plans to make a fourth bid for Taiwan's presidency, along with running mate, former president of United Communication Group Yu Xiang, on Nov 13, 2019.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) - A veteran China-friendly politician joined the race for Taiwan's presidency in a potential blow to Beijing, ramping up the pressure on its preferred candidate as he struggles to reinvigorate a flagging campaign to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen.

People First Party chairman James Soong announced that he plans to make a fourth bid for Taiwan's presidency at a briefing in Taipei on Wednesday (Nov 13).

A Soong campaign would likely hurt the chances of the Kuomintang's candidate, Mr Han Kuo-yu, since he and Mr Soong both draw support from voters who favour eventual unification with China.

Mr Soong's party opposes formal independence for Taiwan, espousing a gradual process of rapprochement between the two sides of the strait that separate the democratically run island from the mainland ending in "political integration".

Ms Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party is pro-independence.

Parties have until Monday to nominate candidates for the Jan 11 election.

LOCAL FIGURE

Mr Soong was born in the southern Chinese province of Hunan in 1942 before his family fled to Taiwan seven years later alongside the retreating General Chiang Kai-shek.

A well-known figure in local politics in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Soong has contested and lost three previous bids for Taiwan's presidency since 2000. In his most recent attempt in 2016, he garnered almost 13 per cent of the vote.

 
 

Around 8 per cent of voters support Mr Soong for president, according to a poll by the Apple Daily newspaper on Monday. Ms Tsai continues to lead the KMT's Mr Han by around 15 percentage points.

Mr Soong may think this is his year, "given Han's waning popularity," said Dr Shelley Rigger, professor of political science at Davidson College.

"At a minimum, having a standard bearer in the presidential race would give his People First Party more visibility for the legislative party list race."

Mr Soong aims to rally support for lawmakers of his party in a legislative election that will be held concurrently with the presidential vote. The PFP currently has three legislators in the 113-member assembly.