On January 11, President Tsai Ing-Wen won the Taiwan presidential elections with a landslide victory. What makes this victory so significant?
Firstly, Tsai, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won 57.13 percent of the votes, the highest vote total recorded for a Taiwan presidential candidate. Secondly, the election’s turn-out rate was equally notable, peaking at 74.9 percent and suggesting that more young people came out to vote.
Tsai’s victory demonstrates that Taiwan wants to preserve its sovereignty (authority to rule itself), even in the face of escalating political pressure from China.
To understand Taiwan’s relationship with China and the election’s consequences for the future, let’s take a closer look at some background.
Leading Up to Tsai’s Victory
After the Communist revolution in 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party (also known as Kuomintang) fled to the island of Taiwan, which became the Republic of China.
The Republic of China is not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, the official name for the large mainland. After decades of rule under the Kuomintang, democratic reforms took effect in the 1980s, and Taiwan has since had its own presidential elections since 1996.
China’s present leader Xi Jinping has pressed for Taiwan’s unification with China, saying that it will inevitably occur and threatening military action should the island seek formal independence.
Xi has also proposed that Taiwan join the People’s Republic under the “one country, two systems” arrangement as used in Hong Kong and Macau. This would allow the island to theoretically be able to keep its political and social freedoms. However, Tsai has rejected that proposal, to which Beijing responded by attempting to isolate its administration and limiting Chinese tourism.
The recent electoral win coincides with the anti-government protests that have been raging in Hong Kong since June 2019. Hong Kong has seen greater Chinese intrusion on its rights, suggesting to Taiwan that such a policy does not work.
The China-Taiwan Relationship
Shortly after Tsai’s victory, Beijing encouraged the international community to acknowledge the existence of a single China.
Tsai herself responded, “Today I want to once again remind the Beijing authorities that peace, parity [equality], democracy, and dialogue are the keys to stability. I want the Beijing authorities to know that democratic Taiwan and our democratically elected government will never concede to threats.”
Despite remarking on the possibility of increasing pressure from China on Taiwan, Tsai remains optimistic, aiming to diversify Taiwan’s trade relationships and strengthen its domestic economy. Nevertheless, Tsai is prepared to defend Taiwan and cautions that invading the island is going to be a costly endeavor.
Sources: BBC, Britannica, NBC, New York Times, Vox