23 May 2019
President-elect  Tsai Ing-wen greets supporters after her election victory at the party headquarters in Taipei on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
President-elect Tsai Ing-wen greets supporters after her election victory at the party headquarters in Taipei on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s Tsai vows economic fix while keeping peace with China

President-elect Tsai Ing-wen pledged to overhaul Taiwan’s flagging economy and maintain peace with mainland China, even as she called on Communist Party leaders in Beijing to respect the island’s democracy and place in world affairs.

Tsai, 59, rode on a wave of discontent with the ruling Kuomintang to become the island’s first female president on Saturday, a resounding victory just four years after failing to unseat President Ma Ying-jeou, Bloomberg News reported.

The election result saw her Democratic Progressive Party capturing its first legislative majority and sent shockwaves across the 180-kilometer Taiwan Strait, where Chinese President Xi Jinping watched Ma’s Kuomintang, a reliable advocate of stronger ties, replaced by a party that officially supports independence.

But in her victory speech, the former law professor and trade negotiator promised she won’t “provoke” Taiwan’s former civil war foes.

At the same time, she didn’t endorse the so-called 1992 consensus that has underpinned KMT talks with the Communist Party.

Under it, both sides agree they belong to the same country, even if they disagree on what that means.

“The energy of reforms will be maximized, while the volatility of reforms will be minimalized,” she said.

“This is really bad news for China,” Shelley Rigger, a politics professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, said in Taipei.

“This kind of massive landslide was not on anyone’s radar. It’s a new outcome for them to get their minds around. It’s going to be a big shock.”

Tsai won 56 percent of the vote compared with 31 percent for the KMT’s Eric Chu, the biggest margin of victory since Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election two decades ago.

The DPP won 68 seats in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan, leaving the KMT with 35 seats and locked out of power for the first time since

Meanwhile, the emergent New Power Party, which aims to normalize Taiwan’s status as a country and improve income equality, won five seats.

Even with support from such upstarts, the DPP would be well shy of the 85 votes necessary to call referendums on any constitutional changes that might assert the island’s independence.

“The people want to see a government willing to listen to the people, a government that’s more transparent and more accountable, and a government that’s more capable of solving problems and taking care of the weak,” Tsai told a news conference.

“They tell me the people expect a government that can lead this country into the next generation and a government that is steadfast in protecting the country’s sovereignty.”

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary Sunday that the result posed “grave challenges to cross-strait relations” and urged the DPP to clarify its position on the 1992 consensus.

“If someone obstinately sticks to the secessionist stance or acts as a troublemaker for regional stability, Taiwan’s stability and development would be sheer empty talk and disappointed Taiwan voters would throw out such a scourge during the next election,” the commentary said.

Any strains could quickly complicate China’s relationship with the United States, which is obligated under a 1979 law to defend Taiwan from attack.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US congratulated Tsai and Taiwan for “demonstrating the strength of their robust democratic system”.

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