Independence-minded opposition wins Taiwan election
Beijing warns new president Tsai Ing-wen against ‘hallucination’ of seeking breakaway
Tsai Ing-wen (R), of Taiwan’s main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has won in Taiwan’s presidential election. Photograph: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images.
Because of a ban on election advertising in public spaces such as roads, bridges and parks, the atmosphere was more muted than usual, but outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in downtown Taipei, more than 20,000 people gathered to celebrate, chanting “We are making history”.
“Regardless of how you voted, the exercise of democratic expression was the most important meaning of this election,” Ms Tsai said in a news conference.
Ms Tsai unseated Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party, which has ruled the island of 23 million people since “Generalissimo” Chiang Kai-shek fled there in 1949, with the exception of 2000-2008 when the DPP were in charge.
The DPP win was by a landslide margin. According to the China News Agency, Ms Tsai won the presidency with 56.1 per cent of the vote. The DPP also took control of the Executive Yuan parliament for the first time, taking 68 of the 113 seats compared to the KMT’s 35 seats.
The result was not welcomed in Beijing, which believes the DPP will push for independence or a separate identity, something Beijing will never tolerate as it considers Taiwan part of China. If the DPP did push for independence, regional tensions would escalate swiftly.
Ms Tsai took an ambiguous line on independence during the campaign but she was less aggressive than previous DPP leaders, including former president Chen Shui-bian.
“We will work towards maintaining the status quo for peace and stability across the Taiwan strait in order to bring the greatest benefits and well-being to the Taiwanese people,” she said.
In the event of Taiwan declaring independence, China, which has hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan, might even consider invading Taiwan and that would bring in the United States, which has pledged to defend Taiwan if China attacks it.
Beijing warned that any attempts to push for independence were “poison”.
“There is only one China in the world, the mainland and Taiwan both belong to one China and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will not brook being broken up,” the foreign ministry in Beijing said in a statement.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said that without peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s new leader “will find the sufferings of the people it wishes to resolve on the economy, livelihood and its youth will be as useless as looking for fish in a tree.”
An editorial in the Global Times newspaper, which is published by the same state-owned group that prints the People’s Daily, said Ms Tsai had been “prudent” and “ambiguous” on the issue of independence during the election campaign.
“We hope Tsai can lead the DPP out of the hallucinations of Taiwan independence, and contribute to the peaceful and common development between Taiwan and the mainland,” it said.
For most of the past 70 years, the KMT has been in power and despite their earlier hostility, has overseen improved relations with Beijing.
Under Mr Ma, there was an unprecedented period of eight years of closer ties with mainland China, culminating in an historic handshake between Mr Ma and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Singapore in November last year.
China does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country and sees it is part of its territory, to be returned by force if it should ever try to claim independence, so now the focus will be on whether Ms Tsai will forcefully push for greater autonomy or even independence for Taiwan after eight years of warmer ties under Mr Ma.
As well as cross-Strait ties, voters were keen for a new approach to resolving the island’s economic woes. Heavily export-dependent, the economy slipped into recession in the third quarter last year. China is also Taiwan’s top trading partner and Taiwan’s favorite investment destination.
In the run-up to the result, much of the public debate in Taiwan was about a public apology by the teenage K-pop singer Chou Tzu-yu for waving the Taiwanese flag on Korean TV, which brought the focus on to difficult relations with mainland China.
Eric Chu, the KMT candidate, apologised to the party’s supporters in an event at the party’s headquarters.
“I’m sorry…We’ve lost. The KMT has suffered an election defeat. We haven’t worked hard enough and we failed voters’ expectations,” Mr Chu said.
The 65-year-old Mr Ma and 59-year-old Ms Tsai have much in common -- both were educated abroad -- he at Harvard Law School and she at the London School of Economics.
Direct presidential elections only began in 1996 but since then it has become a democratic role model in the region, although regular brawls among lawmakers in the Executive Yuan present a less appealing image for democracy on the island.
The White House congratulated Ms Tsai and said the US maintained a “profound interest” in peace between Taiwan and China.