Taiwan re-elects leader in rebuke of China
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.
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.