Interpreting the Taiwan Elections: Democracy in the Shadow of Geopolitics

Taiwan’s most unpredictable election in two decades has been fought against a background of dangerous deterioration in the US–China relationship, making the outcome hugely consequential not just for the people of Taiwan, but for the entire world. But the competing binaries around which the campaign has been waged—democracy vs autocracy and war vs peace—may do more to obscure than clarify the meaning of the contest and its outcome.

Quincy Institute held a discussion with three experts on Taiwanese politics and its position in US–China contention, offering a careful dissection of the election results and their significance. Shelley Rigger, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty and Brown Professor of Asian Politics at Davidson College, had just returned from Taiwan after monitoring the election on the ground. She was be joined by Steven M. Goldstein, an associate at the Fairback Center for Chinese Studies and director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at Harvard University, and Michael D. Swaine, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute. Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, Editorial Director of Responsible Statecraft and Senior Advisor at the Quincy Institute, moderated the panel.


Shelley Rigger

Shelley Rigger is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty and Brown Professor of Asian Politics at Davidson College. Her research and writing focuses on Taiwanese politics and on the relationships among the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan. Shelley has written several books on Taiwan, including her most recent, "The Tiger Leading the Dragon: How Taiwan Propelled China’s Economic Rise" (2021).

Steven Goldstein

Steven M. Goldstein is an Associate of the Fairbank Center and the director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at Harvard University. He previously was the Sophia Smith Professor of Government at Smith College from 1968 to 2016. Goldstein’s research interest has been largely related to issues of Chinese domestic and foreign policy. His current research focus is on the relations between the mainland and Taiwan as well as the evolution of U.S.-Taiwan relations.

Michael Swaine

Michael D. Swaine, a Senior Research Fellow at QI’s East Asia program, is one of the most prominent American scholars of Chinese security studies. He comes to QI from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he worked for nearly twenty years as a senior fellow specializing in Chinese defense and foreign policy, U.S.-China relations, and East Asian international relations. Swaine served as a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a senior advisor at the Quincy Institute and editorial director of its online magazine, Responsible Statecraft. Previously she served as executive editor managing editor, and longtime foreign policy/national security writer at the American Conservative magazine. She also spent 15 years as an online political reporter for Fox News.