Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly rejected the one-China principle, which holds that Taiwan and China are part of one country, similar to Hong Kong and China

By Ian Horswill

Posted on January 13, 2020

Tsai Ing-wen has been re-elected President of Taiwan with 57% of the vote, an all-time high, thanks to her playing on the violent unrest in Hong Kong over China’s rule.

The landslide re-election of Tsai Ing-wen underscores the population’s embrace of an identity distinct from China — a momentum that the communist leaders of China refuse to accept, AP reported.

Nearly three in four of the 19-million-strong electorate cast a ballot and the result will keep the island of 23 million people at odds with its much larger neighbour for the foreseeable future and put increasing strains on the one-China principle, which holds that Taiwan and China are part of one country, similar to Hong Kong and China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Tsai Ing-wen on her Presidential re-election, commending her for maintaining stability with China “in the face of unrelenting pressure”.

“The United States thanks President Tsai for her leadership in developing a strong partnership with the United States and applauds her commitment to maintaining cross-Strait stability in the face of unrelenting pressure,” said Pompeo, in a reference to growing efforts by the Chinese regime to interfere with the self-ruled island.

China sees Taiwan as a part of its territory, despite the island having its own political and economic system. China news media blamed “anti-China political forces” for the re-election of Tsai Ing-wen, calling her victory a threat to the “peaceful development of cross-strait relations”.

“[In Taiwan] you have among the most sophisticated and well-educated voters in the world, and ultimately that is a hard audience to fool,” said James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). The embassy itself is a de facto embassy in Taiwan, according to the NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times commenting on Beijing’s attempts to interfere with the island’s elections.

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan, election

Soon after Tsai Ing-wen was first elected in 2016, China began trying to hurt Taiwan. Mainland Chinese tourists were barred from travelling across the strait, and its diplomatic allies pressured to switch allegiance from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China. Tsai Ing-wen called it “dollar diplomacy”.

Barely a year ago in a New Year’s address to the Taiwanese, China’s President Xi Jinping unveiled his plan to introduce the “one country, two systems” concept for the island, modelled on the framework under which British colonial Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Xi’s proclamation helped change the electoral dynamics – and put the focus on Taiwan’s survival, Al Jazeera reported. “Dried mango”, a homophonic wordplay which belied the heaviness of “the fear of losing one’s nation” soon caught on, especially among young voters.

When protests broke out in Hong Kong, people in Taiwan were shocked.

“It’s very real, as Beijing’s design for Taiwan is very clear,” Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based veteran China watcher, observing the elections in Taipei, told Al Jazeera.

“Yet, Tsai persuasively used the Hong Kong confrontations in her campaign, telling her voters Taiwan’s democracy is what the Hong Kong protesters are fighting for.”

Hong Kong Police use tear gas against the demonstrators. Photo: Facebook / May James / HKFP

Elections began in Taiwan in 1996, and the previous dictatorship remains etched in most voters’ living memories with martial law under the Nationalists ending only in 1987.

The loosening of the Nationalists’ grip has given way to a flowering of a vibrant, anything-goes political culture with nearly 300 parties – from granddads to YouTubers. Nearly 20 parties contested this election, Al Jazeera reported.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary on the election that China has a full policy toolbox to curb Taiwan independence activities and benefit Taiwanese compatriots.