China Won't Be Thrilled at Taiwan's New President

Lai Ching-te, member of pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party, wins election
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 13, 2024 8:22 AM CST
China Won't Be Thrilled at Taiwan's New President
Voters wait in queue outside a polling station for the presidential election in southern Taiwan's Tainan city Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Taiwanese are casting their votes Saturday for a new president in an election that could chart the trajectory of its relations with China over the next four years.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Ruling-party candidate Lai Ching-te emerged victorious in Taiwan's presidential election on Saturday and his opponents conceded, a result that will chart the trajectory of the self-ruled democracy's relations with China over the next four years. At stake is the peace and stability of the island, 100 miles off the coast of China, that Beijing claims as its own and to be retaken by force if necessary. Domestic issues such as the sluggish economy and expensive housing also featured prominently in the campaign, per the AP. China had called the poll a choice between war and peace. Beijing strongly opposes Lai, the current vice president and a member of the governing Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP. Lai and incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen reject China's sovereignty claims over Taiwan, a former Japanese colony that split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949.

They have, however, offered to speak with Beijing, which has repeatedly refused to hold talks and called them separatists. Beijing was believed to favor the candidate from the more China-friendly Nationalist party, also known as Kuomintang, or KMT. Its candidate, Hou Yu-ih, also promised to restart talks with China while bolstering national defense. He promised not to move toward unifying the two sides of the Taiwan Strait if elected. A third candidate in the race, Ko Wen-je of the smaller Taiwan People's Party, or TPP, had drawn the support particularly of young people wanting an alternative to the KMT and DPP, Taiwan's traditional opposing parties, which have largely taken turns governing since the 1990s. Ko also stated he wanted to speak with Beijing, and that his bottom line would be that Taiwan needs to remain democratic and free.

The United States, which is bound by its laws to provide Taiwan with the weapons needed to defend itself, pledged support for whichever government emerges, reinforced by the Biden administration's plans to send an unofficial delegation made up of former senior officials to the island shortly after the election. Taiwan's election is seen as having "real and lasting influence on the geopolitical landscape," said Gabrielle Reid of the global intelligence consultancy S-RM. "The outcome of the vote will ultimately determine the nature of ties with China relative to the West and will have strong bearing on the state of play in the South China Sea." Beside the China tensions, domestic issues dominated the campaign, particularly an economy that was estimated to have grown just 1.4% last year.

(More Taiwan stories.)

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