Paul Eckert | Radio Free Asia
Taiwan voters gave opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen and her independence-leaning party a landslide victory in presidential elections on Saturday, rejecting a ruling party that championed closer ties with China, which claims sovereignty over the island.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, the democratic island’s first female president, repeated her campaign pledge to “build a consistent, predictable, and sustainable cross-strait relationship.”
“Following the will and consensus of the Taiwanese people, we will work to maintain 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 remarks after her victory over ruling nationalist Kuomintang (KMT)’s chairman Eric Chu.
“I also want to emphasize that both sides of the strait have a responsibility to find mutually acceptable means of interaction that are based on dignity and reciprocity. We must ensure that no provocations or accidents take place,” added Tsai, a 59-year-old former law professor.
Tough job for Tsai
Tsai, who took around 56 percent of the vote, saw her mandate made even stronger by the DPP’s victory in parliamentary polls, which also were being held on Saturday.
Reuters news agency said Tsai, who takes office in May, faces “one of Asia’s toughest and most dangerous jobs.”
She must balance the interests of China, which is also Taiwan’s largest trading partner but also has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island, and the United States while serving the needs of a populace with strong misgivings about closer ties with authoritarian China, the agency noted in report from Taipei.
Repeated polls have shown that many of Taiwan’s 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence.
Taiwan was governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and since 1949, and has never been part of communist China.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing was willing to have exchanges with any party, as long as they recognize both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China and would not tolerate any Taiwan independence activities.
“On important issues of principle like protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our will is as hard as rock,” it said in a statement carried on state media.
Rock star and activist
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby issued a statement congratulating Taiwan’s 23 million people “for once again demonstrating the strength of their robust democratic system, which will now undergo another peaceful transition of power.”
“We share with the Taiwan people a profound interest in the continuation of cross-Strait peace and stability,” added the statement.
The Chinese Communist Party and the KMT were bitter foes during a civil war that flared up after the defeat of Japan in World War II, and the KMT government fled to the island after losing to Mao Zedong’s Soviet-backed communist forces.
The Taipei government sees itself as the legal continuation of the KMT regime that began with Sun Yat-sen’s 1911 revolution and the fall of the Qing dynasty.
China says the island must one day reunite under Beijing’s rule and has threatened to use military force if the island seeks independence. Beijing has held out a “one country, two systems” framework similar to that operating in Hong Kong since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
But recent developments in Hong Kong, including Beijing’s refusal to allow fully democratic elections and the apparent arrest of a bookstore manager by Chinese agents within the city’s jurisdiction have made that prospect less appealing to Taiwanese.
Although the margin remained unclear, local media reported that Tsai’s DPP also won control of the island’s 113-member Legislative Yuan, which the KMT had held a controlling 65 seats.
The Legislative Yuan elections also served up some potential thorns for Beijing.
Heavy metal rocker Freddy Lim, Amnesty International’s director in Taiwan and a champion of Tibetans and other causes that rankle Beijing, won a seat in the chamber for his New Power Party. On his Facebook page the 39-year-old with long hair and tattoos described himself as “Asian’s first rock ‘n’ roll musician to become a parliamentarian.”
Wuer Kaixi, a student leader of the 1989 democracy protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that were crushed by China’s military with much loss of life, also won a seat in Taiwan’s parliament.
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