by N. Peter Kramer
Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s pro-sovereignty president , stormed to a second term in office after an election dominated by the island’s tense relationship with mainland China. ‘China must abandon threats of force against Taiwan’, she said after securing 8 million votes, or 57 per cent of the ballot, a record since the first presidential poll in 1996.
Jubilant crowds outside the headquarters of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) waved flags bearing the message ‘Liberate Hong Kong’ and chanted slogans in support of the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony. Ms Tsai secured her victory in a vibrant democracy thriving in the Chinese speaking world. Her rival, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) had advocated closer ties with China and depicted Tsai as endangering the island’s economy and safety by antagonising Beijing. But China’s growing pressure and its insistence that Taiwan become part of China under the ‘one country, two systems’ rule (heavily discredited in Hong Kong) has helped Taiwan’s patriotism centred on its democratic identity to take root. The President used the opportunity to focus on China’s behaviour in relation to Hong Kong and draw the attention away from domestic problems. Fears over China undermined Han Kuo-yu’s campaign.
Ms Tsai’s re-election will harden China president Xi Jinping’s uncompromising approach towards Taiwan. Mr Xi views ‘unification’ with the island as a historic mission. Last year he said ‘unification’ was not something that could continue ‘to be passed from generation to generation’. More than 80 per cent of the Taiwanese reject his approach! Ms Tai won the election with an unprecedented vote count and retained control of the legislature for the DPP. It is all about Taiwan’s security now.