On 11 January 2020, Taiwanese voters headed to the ballot box to vote on who was to be their newest president. Incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was pitted against Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) with Tsai winning office for a second term. Tsai garnered 57% of the votes while Han won 39%. Meanwhile, third candidate James Soong from the People First Party won 4% of the votes.
In response to the results, the Chinese Foreign Ministry made a statement to reaffirm their position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, stating “no matter what changes there are to the internal situation in Taiwan, the basic fact that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China will not change.” Tsai thanked her supporters in a statement, claiming that with the results “Taiwan is showing the world how much we cherish our free democratic way of life and how much we cherish our nation.” In contrast to the staunch nationalism surrounding Tsai and her administration, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu emphasised that the win should not play a significant role in the cross-straits relationship as has been speculated, saying “If China reads too much into our election…there might be a likely scenario that China will engage in military intimidation or diplomatic isolation or using economic measures as punishment against Taiwan.”
What was on the line for Taiwan? The biggest factor was Taiwan’s sovereignty, which has been disputed by mainland China for years. Tensions between the two states have been growing since the appointment of Tsai in 2016, due to her pro-independence stance. Han, mayor of Kaohsiung city, has a more sympathetic stance and is viewed as the pro-Beijing candidate. Parallels can be drawn between the situation between Hong Kong and Taiwan due to the complicated relationship they have with the mainland. Tsai framed the election as an unofficial referendum on Taiwan’s relationship with Beijing, and the unrest in Hong Kong has undoubtedly influenced voters in Taiwan, painting China in a negative light. Democracy and freedom have been touted as the main reasons why Taiwanese are resisting any interference from the mainland, especially with China’s notably bad track record regarding human rights abuses.
China has long maintained that Taiwan is a province under its territory, to be taken by force if necessary. Taiwan says that it is independent and will not bow to the demands of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which includes the “one country, two systems” model that Tsai campaigned strongly against. Her campaign motto, “Resist China, Defend Taiwan” has struck a chord with the younger generation of Taiwanese who make up the majority of her voter base. The self-ruled island has gone through lengths to become the democracy it currently is, achieving direct democracy in 1996 after four decades of authoritarian rule under the KMT.
Tsai Ing-wen’s win signifies that the general sentiment towards the CPC is growing increasingly hostile, announcing to the world that Taiwan will not easily succumb to China. As the fight in Hong Kong continues and the oppressed in Tibet and Xinjiang suffer, Taiwan seems to be the only beacon of hope among these contested zones. Hopefully, the Taiwanese will not have to resort to violence to defend their sovereignty, but currently, finding a peaceful solution that both sides can agree upon remains a struggle.
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