Taiwan’s landslide reelection of President Tsai Ing-wen on Jan. 11 represents a choice by the people to distance the democratically governed island from Communist Party-controlled mainland China — a decision that Beijing must accept.
Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party suffered a heavy defeat in regional elections in 2018 amid anger over changes to the pension system for civil servants. But its approval rating bounced back rapidly after Tsai dispelled lingering mistrust with a swift rejection of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calls for reunification under a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” arrangement.
The ongoing protests in Hong Kong, over the erosion of the autonomy guaranteed to the territory under “one country, two systems,” also worked in Tsai’s favor. The situation heightened Taiwanese wariness of Beijing, leading to the passage of legislation aimed at countering Chinese election interference.
Tsai’s rival for the presidency, Kuomintang candidate Han Kuo-yu, argued his case eloquently. But he struggled to overcome the perception that he was cozy with Beijing after he said he did not know about the Hong Kong protests when asked in June.
Cross-strait relations are at an impasse. Beijing asserts that Taiwan and the mainland agreed under the so-called 1992 Consensus that both are inalienable parts of a single China, and it has suspended diplomatic contact with Taiwan until Taipei recognizes the idea.
China should take Taiwan’s disengagement seriously and seek new policies to promote a stable relationship. It must strictly refrain from strong-arm tactics and threats of reunification by force.
China is locked in a battle for supremacy with the U.S., and its economy has slowed. Taiwan, meanwhile, is enjoying moderate growth, thanks partly to the return of companies that had relocated to the mainland. Taiwanese businesses with expertise in such fields as chipmaking form a key link in supply chains spanning the U.S. and China.
Ensuring the survival of a Taiwan caught between two opposing superpowers will be Tsai’s biggest challenge in her second term.
Taiwan has a quarter-century-long track record of democracy and shares values with the U.S. and Japan. Its opposition parties have an important role to play in maintaining fair governance supported by freedom of expression. The Kuomintang should reflect on the reasons for its defeat and make every effort to reshape itself accordingly.