Date
20 January 2020
Tsai Ing-wen attends a press conference in Taipei on Jan. 11 to declare victory in the presidential election. In her second term, Tsai is likely to remain tough as ever on cross-strait issues, and will need US backing more than ever. Photo: AFP
Tsai Ing-wen attends a press conference in Taipei on Jan. 11 to declare victory in the presidential election. In her second term, Tsai is likely to remain tough as ever on cross-strait issues, and will need US backing more than ever. Photo: AFP

Taiwan’s Tsai faces formidable challenges after election win

As many had expected, Taiwan’s incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen swept to an easy victory in the island’s presidential election last Saturday, securing a second term in office.

Tsai, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), took an all-time high 8.17 million-plus votes in the contest, defeating her main rival and Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu by a huge margin of some 2.67 million votes.

The key contributing factors to the pan-green coalition’s crushing victory, most observers reckon, are the “one country, two systems” model proposed for Taiwan by Beijing a year ago, and the anti-extradition bill saga in Hong Kong.

Tsai quickly seized on the opportunities by proclaiming a “no” to the “one country, two systems” and pledging to defend Taiwan’s democracy and de facto sovereignty, and adopting a defiant posture towards Beijing’s “authoritarianism”.

In particular, she succeeded in generating among the Taiwanese people a strong sentiment of fear of “losing statehood”. And in doing so, she won the hearts and minds of young and first-time voters who embrace democratic and liberal values.

Going forward, Tsai, who has positioned Taiwan as a key player in the fight against authoritarianism, is likely to remain tough as ever on cross-strait issues during her second term as president, and will need Washington’s backing more than ever.

As far as the United States is concerned, the Donald Trump administration will be happy to step up arms sales to Taiwan in order to gain more strategic leverage over mainland China.

Closer US-Taiwan ties may lead to escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Through this election, the people of Taiwan have sent a clear message that they cannot accept “one country, two systems”, signaling their wish to maintain the status quo of no unification, no independence, and no use of force in cross-strait relations.

However, despite her sweeping triumph, Tsai is far from being home free, because judging from the rise in vote totals of the KMT in this election, one can tell that while the Taiwanese people have defied Beijing through the ballot box, their discontent with the socio-economic situation in Taiwan under DPP rule is still strong, alongside with their concern over the continuously deteriorating cross-strait relations.

As such, over the next four years, Tsai and the DPP will not only have to withstand mounting pressure and threats from Beijing, they will also have their work cut out in trying to address public grievances, enhance economic development and improve people’s livelihoods.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal