Taiwan election result delivers a blow to China's unification plan

Landslide re-election win for president who refuses to acknowledge Beijing's claims

Taiwan Vice President-elect William Lai and incumbent Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen celebrate at a rally after their election victory, outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan January 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's re-election by a landslide on Saturday delivered a strong rejection of China's long-running attempts to claim sovereignty over the island.

Ms Tsai, 63, secured 57 per cent of the vote with a record-breaking 8.2 million ballots – 1.3 million more than her 2016 victory, while her Democratic Progressive Party managed to retain its majority in the unicameral parliament with 61 out of 113 seats.

Beijing cut off contact with Ms Tsai's government after she refused to endorse its "one China" policy after taking office in 2016 and has applied pressure through a mixture of threats and incentives pressure .

"Tsai's landslide victory is like a slap in the face to Beijing as Taiwanese voters say no to its intimidation," Hung Chin-fu, a political analyst at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University, told AFP.

While not explicitly advocating independence, Ms Tsai maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation and that only its 23 million inhabitants should decide its future. In a victory address in Taipei, she said voters had “put democratic values into practice” and that the world should see Taiwan as a partner, not an issue. She urged Beijing to resume cross-strait dialogues and negotiations as equals, and said she hoped the two sides could build a “sustainable and healthy” approach for exchange.

Besides a strong economy, her re-election prospects were boosted by the months of anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong, which is ruled under a "one country, two systems" model that Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed applying to Taiwan.

But many Taiwanese voters appeared wary of the idea.

"I don't want Taiwan's democracy to turn into how Hong Kong is now," Dennis Wu, a doctor, said as he voted for Ms Tsai in Taipei.

“I voted for Tsai Ing-wen because I don’t want to lose Taiwan’s freedom,” said Rita Huang, a 34-year-old public servant.

Ms Tsai's victory is the second major electoral setback for Beijing in recent weeks. In November, Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp scored a landslide win over pro-China parties in district elections.

Joshua Eisenman, a foreign affairs expert the University of Notre Dame, said all eyes will be watching China's response to Taiwan's election result.

"Will the hardline position towards Tsai be continued or will Beijing adopt a more 'soft sell' approach that is more carrot and less stick?" he said.