Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party was reelected in the presidential election. She won by a landslide over Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the largest opposition Kuomintang party, among other candidates.
Voters in Taiwan can be said to have chosen the continuation of an administration that values its singularity, saying no to China, which has been demanding unification.
The most contentious issue was the relationship with China. “Democracy and tyranny cannot coexist in the same country,” said Tsai, who has been clearly expressing her stance of rejecting China’s demand for unification under the “one country, two systems” policy.
Protests against China have intensified since June last year in Hong Kong, where the one country, two systems framework is applied. In Taiwan, too, there is a high perception of “Taiwan people’s consciousness,” mainly among the younger generations, where China and Taiwan are separate entities.
“Taiwan cannot be the next Hong Kong,” Tsai said, strengthening criticism of China. There is no doubt that Tsai’s vigilance toward Beijing has been a tailwind for her.
In contrast, Han called for stimulating the economy through reconciliation with China, but this did not win the heart of many voters. His economic policy relying on China lacked persuasiveness, partly because many Taiwan companies accelerated moves to return their production bases to Taiwan from China due to trade friction between Washington and Beijing.
However, improving relations with China, which is a huge market, is indispensable for the long-term development of Taiwan’s economy.
How will Taipei realize the stability of China-Taiwan relations and expansion of bilateral economic exchanges while resisting Beijing’s pressure toward unification? This will be the biggest challenge for Tsai’s administration in its second term.
In reality, China has refused to engage in political dialogue with the Tsai administration. Beijing has shrunk trade and personnel exchanges by putting pressure on Taiwan in the military and diplomatic spheres. This is because the Tsai administration does not accept the “one China” principle that regards Taiwan as a part of China.
China continues to chip away at the number of countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which has decreased to 15. Its isolation in the international community has been deepening.
Late last year, the Tsai administration enacted a so-called anti-infiltration law to prevent China from exerting its influence in Taiwan. The move seemingly reflects a sense of alarm that China is trying to shape public opinion favorable to unification by disseminating fake news, among other methods.
A hard-line stance toward China alone will not be enough to break out of the current situation in which Taipei cannot even hold dialogue with Beijing. Tsai also needs to listen to criticism that the law could be used by her administration to suppress opposition forces.
Since 1996, seven presidential elections have been held in Taiwan, which led to a change of administration three times. China should respect Taiwan’s democratic system and the will of the people.
The coercive approach of using force as a backdrop only strengthens the antipathy of the Taiwan people. China must resume political dialogue with Taiwan to ease tensions.
The stability and development of Taiwan are extremely important for Japan and its neighboring countries. Japan is urged to encourage dialogue between China and Taiwan.