Media from the Gulf States React to the Taiwan Elections

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Francesco Scala

On January 13, 2024, general elections were held in Taiwan. Lai Ching-te, who had secured the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairmanship by acclamation in March 2023, was elected president with a plurality of 40.05% and is scheduled to be inaugurated in May of this year. The significance of this electoral event extends beyond Taiwan, being of great importance for East Asian as well as global politics, particularly considering the island’s centrality in Sino-American relations.

In this issue of the ChinaMed Observer, we delve into the media coverage of the 2024 Taiwan elections in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). While Gulf journalists and commentators allocated significantly less attention to these elections compared to their Western counterparts, discernible trends emerged regarding how this event was discussed. Primarily, the focus of Arab commentators was directed towards the elections’ implications on the global competition between China and the United States. However, there was also a conspicuous absence of direct references to possible ramification that the outcome of the Taiwan elections could have on the Middle East and GCC countries’ foreign policy.

Taiwanese Parties and Candidates from the GCC Point of View

Commentators from GCC countries paid notable attention to the positions of the main Taiwanese political parties. Of particular interest to Arab analysts were the Kuomintang’s (Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT) history and their more conciliatory approach towards China. The link between Beijing and the Nationalists, who are the descendants of the side defeated by the Communists during the Chinese Civil War, was a subject of considerable curiosity.

For instance, in an article for the Bahraini newspaper al-Ayām, Bahraini researcher ‘Abdullah al-Madani highlighted the peculiar foreign policy platform of the KMT, noting how “It is known that the Kuomintang, […] today, in a strange paradox, supports the establishment of close relations with China.”[1]

A similar consideration was made in an article by Šadi ‘Abd al-Satir, published in the Saudi newspaper al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ: “The Kuomintang – the Chinese Nationalist Party that has ruled Taiwan for nearly 40 years with an iron fist since 1949 after losing a civil war on the Chinese mainland – prefers to establish close relations with China, but strongly denies that it is supportive of Beijing.”[2]

Naturally, there was also keen interest in the ramifications that a change in leadership could have for Taiwan’s foreign policy. In the context of the DPP’s clear advantage in the exit polls prior to the election, al-Madani speculated that the DPP’s anti-Chinese position could possibly contribute to an escalation, stating that:

“Observers fear that, with a figure like this woman [Hsiao Bi-khim, former Taiwanese representative in Washington and vice-presidential candidate for the DPP] in senior decision-making positions, Taipei will adopt more extreme pro-independence policies”[3].

Other Arab analysts also considered the possibility of escalation, not only solely due to the DPP, but also in light of Beijing’s not-so-veiled threats. Al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ reported on the statement made by Chen Binhua, the spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, in which he openly spoke about the “serious danger” that the DPP presidential candidate (and ultimately president-elect) Lai Ching-te represents to relations between the Mainland and Taiwan.[4]

Beijing’s Preferences

Another aspect of the Taiwanese elections that intrigued many Arab observers were the explicit preferences of the Chinese government, which regards the island as an inalienable part of its territory. For example, al-Madani commented on how “[…] Beijing did not hide its encouragement of the two main opposition parties in Taiwan to cooperate, ally, and agree on one strong candidate,”[5] implying that the KMT and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) are seen by China as much preferred interlocutors than the DPP.

Analysts from GCC states also covered how Beijing could be influencing the Taiwanese elections, in particular through military drills.[6] Saudi newspaper al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ reported on the multiple sightings of Chinese spy balloons in the sky over Taipei from December onwards, suggesting that they could be meant to intimidate Taiwanese voters.[7] Similar reporting can be found in other GCC member states, such as in Qatari newspaper al-Raya, which covered the mistranslated “missile flyover” warning issued by the Taiwanese Ministry of Defence in early January.[8]

Against the backdrop of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s New Year Address, in which he strongly referenced the eventual and inevitable “reunification” between Taiwan and the Mainland, Bahraini newspaper The Daily Tribune published an article on Beijing’s potential military options for achieving reunification.[9]

Another article which repeated Chinese talking points was one published by Emirati newspaper al-Khaleej, which affirmed that Chinese military capabilities aim to prevent “foreign intervention and target a small number of separatists on the island.”[10] It goes on to imply that since Beijing sees Taiwanese people as Chinese, when reunification does occur it will be smooth and peaceful and that force would be used only against those who carry out separatist actions, i.e. the DPP.[11] Indeed, Arab analysts often cited a declaration made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, according to which “Taiwan has never been a country and will never be,” and that China will “destroy” every effort “in favor of Taiwan independence.”[12]

Taiwan’s Elections and China-USA competition

On the eve of the elections in Taiwan, media outlets from GCC member states also reported on the meeting in Washington between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party Liu Jianchao on January 12. This meeting was widely interpreted in the Gulf as a sign of easing tensions between Beijing and Washington, for instance by Saudi newspaper al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ.[13] This development was seen as consolidating the trends initiated with the meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California in November.

The Emirati newspaper al-Khaleej made a similar argument, quoting a spokesman for the US State Department that described the meeting as “constructive” and how both countries “acknowledged the importance of continuing to keep channels of communication open.”[14]

That said, Arab journalists have been keenly observant of the fragility of Sino-American relations, and the pivotal role played by Taiwan. For example, ‘al-Madanī drew attention to the figure of Hsiao Bi-khim, underscoring how she can be a strategic asset for Washington due to her past as a Taiwan representative to the United States.[15] In an opinion piece published on Bahraini newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej, Professor Nabeel Fahimi reminded readers how Taiwan remains a possible trigger for conflict between China and the US, citing “the visit of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi” and President Biden’s repeated statements committing to “defending Taiwan in the event of any aggression against it.”[16]

Professor Nawaf bin Mubarak bin Saif al-Thani provided a similar assessment with regard to the prevailing sentiment of global uncertainty as of the beginning of 2024, characterizing the world as an “amateur acrobat on a thin rope of security and stability” and as a going through a “perfect hurricane of challenges.”[17] He also emphasized that the recently held elections in Taiwan should be viewed as part of the “fierce, hidden competition […] between China and the United States of America”[18] to gain hegemony and shape international affairs. Additionally, al-Thani highlighted the potential risks for GCC countries, cautioning that:

“this will be a unique year as many peoples around the world must choose their leaders in a moment of great uncertainty for the world. This will require our region to have an accurate understanding of the challenges our world today faces in order to know how we can navigate around the storm, not through it.”[19]


In general, the scant published analyses on the elections in Taiwan within the media of Gulf states indicates a lack of significant interest in the democratic politics of the island. Although the available articles reveal some instances of Arab commentators adopting or sharing Beijing’s talking points, the positions expressed on the Taiwanese elections and their outcome were rather neutral.

Our analysis suggests that the main concern of Arab analysts and commentators is on how these electoral developments might impact US-China relations, possibly escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington despite their recent efforts to stabilize this crucial bilateral relationship. The elections are perceived as likely to contribute to additional turbulence in a moment that they perceive as already challenging to navigate.

Francesco SCALA is Research Fellow at the ChinaMed Project. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation from the University of Naples ‘L'Orientale’. His research focuses on the media coverage of China in the Gulf countries, including Iraq.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.

[1] ‘Abdullah al-Madani, al-mušhad al-sīāsī fī Taiwan qabla intikhābātihā al-muqbila المشهد السياسي في تايوان قبل انتخاباتها المقبلة [The political scene in Taiwan before its upcoming elections], al-Ayam, December 05, 2023, link.

[2] Šadī ‘Abd al-Sātir, min hom ābraz al-muršiḥīn lintikhābāti Taiwan ua kaifa ianẓurwna ilā al-‘alāqa biṣ-ṣini? من هم أبرز المرشحين لانتخابات تايوان وكيف ينظرون إلى العلاقة بالصين؟ [Who are the most prominent candidates in Taiwan's elections and how do they view the relationship with China?], al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ, January 13, 2024, link.

[3] ‘Abdullah al-Madani, The political scene in Taiwan before its upcoming elections.

[4] Beijing tuṭālibu Washington bi’adam al-tadkhīl fī intikhābāti Taiwan بكين تطالب واشنطن بعدم التدخل في انتخابات تايوان [Beijing demands that Washington not interfere in Taiwan's elections], al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ, January 11, 2024, link.

[5] ‘Abdullah al-Madani, The political scene in Taiwan before its upcoming elections.

[6] ṭāi’rāt ua safun harbīa Ṣīnīa tawaṣulu intišārahā fī muḥīti Taiwan طائرات وسفن حربية صينية تواصل انتشارها في محيط تايوان [Chinese warplanes and ships continue to deploy around Taiwan], April 12, 2024, link.

[7] Taiwan: al-munāṭīd al-Ṣīnīa tahaddadu salāmat al-ṭaīarāni تايوان: المناطيد الصينية تهدد سلامة الطيران [Taiwan: Chinese balloons threaten aviation safety], January, 6, 2024, link.

[8] Iṣdār taḥḏīr fī ānḥā’ Taiwan b’ad raṣdi qamri iṣṭinā’iī Ṣīnī إصدار تحذير في أنحاء تايوان بعد رصد قمر اصطناعي صيني [A warning has been issued across Taiwan after a Chinese satellite was spotted], al-Rāīa, January 9, 2024, link.

[9] Possible Scenarios for a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan, The Daily Tribune, January 09, 2024, link.

[10] Beijing: intikhabāt Taipei lā taḡīru haqīqatan annahā Ṣīnīa ua tahdīdātinā bi-l-ḥarbi “laīsat li-l-Taiwaniīn” بكين: انتخابات تايبيه لا تغير حقيقة أنها صينية وتهديداتنا بالحرب «ليست للتايوانيين» [Beijing: Taipei's elections do not change the fact that it is Chinese, and our threats of war are "not for the Taiwanese"], al-Khalīǧ, January 17, 2024, link.

[11] Ibid.

[12] al-Ṣīn tuḥaḏḏiru min “’iqāb qāsin” li-ayi muḥāwalāt li-istiqlāl Taiwan الصين تحذّر من «عقاب قاسٍ» لأي محاولات لاستقلال تايوان [China warns of “severe punishment” for any attempts at Taiwan independence], al-Khalīǧ, January 15, 2024, link;

al-Ṣīn tata’ahhadu “saḥq” ayi mus’aā Taiwan “li-istiqlāl” الصين تتعهّد «سحق» أي مسعى تايواني «للاستقلال [China pledges to “crush” any Taiwanese push for “independence”], al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ, January 12, 2024, link.

[13] Blinken ialtaqī masw’wlān Ṣīnīan kabīran ‘ašīa intikhābāt ri’āsa Taiwan بلينكن يلتقي مسؤولاً صينياً كبيراً عشية انتخابات رئاسة تايوان [Blinken meets with a senior Chinese official on the eve of Taiwan's presidential elections], al-Šarq al-Awsaṭ, January 12, 2024, link.

[14] Ibid.

[15] ‘Abdullah al-Madani, The political scene in Taiwan before its upcoming elections.

[16] Nabīl Fahimī, qira’tan fī ḥaṣādi al-taḡīrāt al-sīāsīa fī ‘aām 2023 قراءة في حصاد التغيرات السياسية في عام 2023 [Reading of the harvest political changes in 2023], Akhbār al-Khalīǧ, January 2, 2024, link.

[17] Nawāf bin Mubārak bin Saīf al-Thānī, muǧarrad raʾī… ta'amulāt mā qabla al-‘aāṣifa مجرد رأي …. تأملات ما قبل العاصفة [Just an opinion …. reflections before the storm], January 10, 2024, link.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

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Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Published with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation pursuant to art. 23-bis of Presidential Decree 18/1967. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
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