Taiwanese re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen by a landslide on Saturday, a stern rebuke to China which has tried both military threats and economic inducements to get the island to accept its rule, and potentially ushering in further tension with Beijing.
China and the months of anti-government unrest in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong took center stage in the campaign. Tsai held out Taiwan as a beacon of hope for protesters in the former British colony, and firmly rejected Beijing’s offer to Taiwan of the “one country, two systems” model.
China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed, a threat Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated year ago, though said he preferred a peaceful solution.
“One country, two systems,” which provides for a high degree of autonomy, much as Beijing uses in Hong Kong, has never been popular in Taiwan, and is even less so now after the months of protests in Hong Kong.
China made itself even more unpopular in Taiwan in the run-up to the election by twice sailing its newest aircraft carrier through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, denounced by Taipei as an effort at military intimidation.
“We hope that the Beijing authorities can understand that a democratic Taiwan with a government chosen by the people will not give in to threats and intimidation,” Tsai told reporters after her victory.
Beijing needs to understand the will of Taiwan’s people, and that only Taiwan’s people can decide its future, she added.
Underscoring the scale of her victory, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party also won a majority in parliament.
Tsai beat her main opponent Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which favors close ties with China, by more than 2.6 million votes.
The United States, Taiwan’s strongest international backer and main arms supplier, congratulated Tsai, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling Taiwan a “force for good in the world”.
“The United States thanks President Tsai for her leadership in developing a strong partnership with the United States and applauds her commitment to maintaining cross-Strait stability in the face of unrelenting pressure,” Pompeo said in a statement.
In total Tsai won almost 8.2 million votes, more than any Taiwan president before since the island held its first direct presidential election in 1996.