Taiwanese voters selected Lai Ching-te as their next president Saturday, ignoring threats from China, which opposed a Lai presidency and previously framed the election as a choice between “war and peace.”
Lai, Taiwan’s current vice president, and running mate Hsaio Bi-khim—a former envoy to the U.S.—claimed 40% of the vote, beating second-place finisher Hou Yu-ih of the more China-friendly Kuomintang Party by roughly seven percentage points.
The victory gives the Democratic Progressive Party, long a target of Chinese ire for its rhetoric supporting Taiwanese autonomy, an unprecedented third-consecutive presidential election win.
In a victory speech, Lai framed the results as a victory for democracy, claiming that Taiwan was “telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we still stand on the side of democracy,” per CNN.
Lai said he aimed to maintain “the cross-strait status quo” and seek talks with China, but he also reiterated that he was determined “to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China.”
In response to the election results, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Saturday that regardless of whatever change takes place in Taiwan, “Taiwan is part of China.” In the days leading up to the election, China maintained its tough posturing, with defense ministry spokesperson Zhang Xiaogang telling Al Jazeera the Chinese People’s Liberation Army “maintains high vigilance at all times and will take all necessary measures to firmly crush ‘Taiwan independence’ attempts of all forms.”
China insists that Taiwan is one of its territories, even as many in Taiwan reject that claim and advocate for Taiwanese independence. China had openly opposed the DPP retaining power and a Lai presidency, with Chinese officials describing Lai as a “stubborn worker for Taiwan independence” who promoted “the Taiwan independence fallacy” and who would pose a danger to relations across the Taiwan Strait. China has framed the election as a choice between “war and peace,” though it did not name a preferred candidate, and maintained its stance in the days leading up to the election. In recent weeks, Chinese balloons were spotted over Taiwan, which DPP leaders viewed as an intimidation tactic ahead of the election.
The Taiwan Ministry of National Defense was forced to apologize last week for sending out air raid alerts to residents after China launched a satellite that crossed into Taiwanese airspace. But the English version of the alert included a mistranslation that mistakenly referred to the satellite as a “missile.”
What To Watch For
The election results have the potential to heighten tensions between the U.S. and China amid the Biden administration’s efforts to stabilize relations. Biden has already committed to sending an unofficial delegation of former U.S. officials to Taiwan after the election—a move that sparked an angry response from China. As part of its “One China” policy, the U.S. has historically acknowledged China’s claim that Taiwan is part of China, but maintains an unofficial relationship with the Taiwanese people. President Joe Biden said following the election results: “We do not support independence,” according to a White House pool report.
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CORRECTION (1/13): This story has been updated to clarify China defense ministry spokesperson Zhang Xiaogang made comments to Al Jazeera before the election.