Tai­wan re-elects leader in re­buke of China

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - WORLD - By Steven Lee My­ers and Chris Hor­ton

TAIPEI, Tai­wan — Vot­ers on this is­land de­liv­ered a sting­ing re­buke of China’s ris­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism Satur­day by re-elect­ing Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen, who vowed to pre­serve Tai­wan’s sovereignt­y in the face of Bei­jing’s in­ten­si­fy­ing ef­forts to bring it un­der its con­trol.

Tsai’s vic­tory high­lighted how suc­cess­fully her cam­paign had tapped into an elec­torate that is in­creas­ingly wary of China’s in­ten­tions. It also found mo­men­tum from months of protests in Hong Kong against Bei­jing’s en­croach­ment on that semi­au­tonomous Chi­nese ter­ri­tory’s free­doms.

For China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party, the out­come is a dis­play of the power of Hong Kong’s antigov­ern­ment protest move­ment to in­flu­ence at­ti­tudes to­ward the main­land in other re­gions the party deems crit­i­cal to its in­ter­ests.

China’s au­thor­i­tar­ian leader, Xi Jin­ping, has warned Tai­wan that uni­fi­ca­tion be­tween the sides was in­evitable. His party has sought to court Tai­wanese with op­por­tu­ni­ties to work on the main­land while iso­lat­ing Tsai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and said China would use force, if nec­es­sary, to pre­vent the is­land from tak­ing steps to­ward for­mal in­de­pen­dence.

The vote, which was a re­ver­sal of Tsai’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes, sug­gested that Bei­jing’s pres­sure cam­paign had back­fired. It could widen the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural gulf across the Tai­wan Strait and might raise the specter of armed con­flict, which could have im­pli­ca­tions for the U.S.

In her vic­tory speech, Tsai called for unity as she pledged to work to de­fend the is­land’s sovereignt­y and im­prove the econ­omy.

“With each pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Tai­wan is show­ing the world how much we cher­ish our demo­cratic way of life,” she said at a news con­fer­ence in Taipei. “We must work to keep our coun­try safe and de­fend our sovereignt­y.”

The vote drew a large turnout, in­clud­ing thou­sands who flew home from abroad. Lines of vot­ers snaked through schools and other pub­lic spa­ces.

Wil­lie Yu, 23, who cast his bal­lot at the Taipei Mu­nic­i­pal Jin­hua Ju­nior High School, said he had come out to vote be­cause “I hope Tai­wan can pre­serve its democ­racy and free­dom.”

Tsai’s main op­po­nent, Han Kuo-yu, a pop­ulist mayor, con­ceded de­feat Satur­day evening, say­ing he had called Tsai to con­grat­u­late her on her re-elec­tion.

“I can only say that I didn’t work hard enough to live up to ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions,” he told his sup­port­ers.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, Han had pledged to re­store closer re­la­tions with the main­land but then found him­self on the de­fen­sive be­cause of China’s in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian ac­tions. Tsai and her sup­port­ers had cited the Hong Kong protests as an omi­nous ex­am­ple of what uni­fi­ca­tion on the Com­mu­nist Party’s terms would por­tend for Tai­wan’s young and vi­brant, if messy at times, demo­cratic so­ci­ety.

“Tai­wan must be Tai­wan,” Hiro Huang, a 30-year-old film­maker, said this past week at a rally for Tsai and her Demo­cratic Progress Party. He cited na­tional se­cu­rity and the pro­tec­tion of Tai­wan’s sovereignt­y as the prin­ci­pal rea­sons for his vote for Tsai.

“Af­ter all, we are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the sys­tem on the other side,” he added.

In China, a spokesman for the depart­ment over­see­ing Tai­wan af­fairs, Ma Xiaoguang, is­sued a state­ment that avoided even men­tion­ing Tsai’s name but warned that Bei­jing op­posed any form of “sep­a­ratist con­spir­acy” in Tai­wan, the Xin­hua News Agency re­ported late Satur­day.

Chi­ang Ying-ying / As­so­ci­ated Press

Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen cel­e­brates her re-elec­tion vic­tory with sup­port­ers in Taipei on Satur­day. Her gov­ern­ment has presided over an im­prov­ing econ­omy with ris­ing wages.

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