Taiwan elects ruling party's Lai Ching-te as island's new leader

Mr Lai of the Democratic Progressive Party has been described as a separatist by critics in Beijing

Taiwan's President-elect Lai Ching-te and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim in Taipei after his election victory on Saturday. Reuters
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Lai Ching-te, the presidential candidate for Taiwan's ruling party, won an election on Saturday described in China as a choice between war and peace.

Main opposition Kuomintang party candidate Hou Yu-ih conceded defeat.

It is an unprecedented third term for Mr Lai's party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which advocates the island's separate identity and rejects China's territorial claims.

Mr Lai was facing two opponents for the presidency - Mr Hou and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the small Taiwan People's Party, only founded in 2019.

Speaking in the southern city of Tainan before voting, Mr Lai encouraged people to cast their ballots.

"Every vote is valued, as this is Taiwan's hard-earned democracy," he said.

In the run-up to the election, China repeatedly denounced Mr Lai as a dangerous separatist and rebuffed his calls for talks. Mr Lai says he is committed to preserving peace across the Taiwan Strait and boosting the island's defences.

On Taiwan's air force upgrading F-16 fighter jets and buying more from the US, China's Defence Ministry said on Friday even with purchases of US weapons the DPP "cannot stop the trend of complete reunification of the motherland".

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army remains on high alert at all times and will take all necessary measures to resolutely crush any form of 'Taiwan independence' separatist plots and firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said ministry spokesman Zhang Xiaogang.

Taiwan's Defence Ministry said on Saturday morning it had again spotted Chinese balloons crossing the sensitive Strait, one of which flew over Taiwan itself.

The Ministry has denounced the surge in balloons reported over the Strait in the past month as psychological warfare and a threat to aviation safety.

"Nobody wants war," said Jennifer Lu, 36, a businesswoman, who was playing on a grass pitch with her daughter after casting a ballot on a sunny morning in Taipei's Songshan district.

Mr Hou wants to restart engagement beginning with people-to-people exchanges and has, like China, accused Mr Lai of supporting Taiwan's formal independence. Mr Lai says Hou is pro-Beijing, which Mr Hou rejects.

Mr Ko won a passionate support base, especially among young voters, for focusing on bread and butter issues such as the high cost of housing. He also wants to re-engage China but insists that cannot come at the expense of protecting Taiwan's democracy and way of life.

- With reporting from agencies

Updated: January 14, 2024, 4:51 AM