Image Credit: Voice of America composite picture
On 11th January, Tsai Ing-wen extended her position as the President of Taiwan for another four years, with a record-breaking result of 8.2 million votes.
This election was anticipated to shape the country’s relationship with China. The two main presidential candidates, Tsai, aged 63, of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Han Kuo-yu, aged 62, of Kuomintang Party (KMT) had opposing attitudes in dealing with threats from China and prospects for their subsequent relationship.
Since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the idea of China’s sovereignty over Taiwan has threatened the nation’s independence. As highlighted by the recent events in Hong Kong, China believes that only one Chinese government should exist and that other breakaway provinces must eventually be reunified, with force if necessary. Over the years, Taiwan has been threatened to comply. The ‘One China’ policy ensured the island’s isolation from the international community, as countries that wished to form diplomatic alliances with China were required to break official ties with Taiwan. The travel ban of July 2019 aimed to shake its economy.
Due to the consistent threats and pressures, Han wanted to take a cautious and friendly approach towards the mainland in order to ease tensions. Kuomintang and their supporters believed that this is crucial to restore amicable terms, particularly with their biggest trading partner.
While Han favoured the ‘One China, Two Systems’ principle, Tsai rejected it, claiming that it is “not viable” for the country. She insisted on standing up to China in order to maintain the island’s independence. Many view this as the key to DPP’s dramatic comeback from the 2018 midterm elections and Tsai’s ultimate victory.
As the crisis in Hong Kong worsened, the fear of China grew amongst the Taiwanese people. The way China dealt with pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong was alarming to the Taiwanese citizens who hold their “free democratic way of life” dearly. The crisis in Hong Kong exemplified the disaster Taiwan could also face if it were to be unified.
The military threats from China, as aircraft were flown through Taiwanese territory, increased such fear amongst citizens. Those who feared Chinese annexation of Taiwan supported Tsai as she emphasised that their future should be decided by the 23 million people who reside within its borders. Many view this fear of China as a turning point in Tsai’s campaign.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, once again claimed that there “must and will be” a reunification. In January 2019, he proposed a peaceful enforcement of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. This system of government led to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
Tsai believes that her victory in the re-election with 57 per cent of votes proves the people’s rejection of the system and maturation of their democracy. She claimed that Taiwan, as an independent country with a separate identity, was entitled to respect from China.
Critics have noted that such provocative claims can be risky. Increasing tension between the two countries will result in greater hostility which, in turn, could threaten the island’s security. However, Tsai argued that Taiwan has been “making a lot of efforts to strengthen [their] capability” and, in fact, proclaiming war on Taiwan will prove “costly” for China.
The international community will pay close attention to Tsai’s second term in office. The relationship between China and Taiwan is at stake, with the possibility of the break out of war. Their relations with superpowers may also be affected.
As the US and Taiwan strengthen their military ties through trade of weapons and armoury, Taiwan could spark competition and tensions between the US and China.