Jan 13, 2024 - World

Taiwan elects ruling party candidate as president, ignoring China's warnings

Taiwan's Vice President and presidential candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te leaves a booth while holding his ballot paper

Taiwan's Vice President and presidential candidate of ruling the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) William Lai leaves the voting booth on Saturday. Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

TAIPEI — Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progress Party candidate William Lai won Saturday's presidential election after the main opposition candidate conceded defeat.

Why it matters: The Chinese government is likely to ratchet up its pressure campaign against Taiwan in response to the election of a politician that Beijing has called a "separatist through and through."

  • This election was viewed as a potential referendum on Taiwan's cross-Strait policies after eight years of DPP rule and growing pressure from Beijing.

What they're saying: "I want to thank the Taiwanese people for writing a new chapter in our democracy. We have shown the world how much we cherish our democracy," Lai said after the results on Saturday.

  • "As president I have an important responsibility to maintain peace and ability in the Taiwan Strait," he added.
  • Lai said he would uphold the cross-Strait status quo and pursue dialogue with China but that he is "determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China."

Details: By 8 pm local time, Lai had garnered more than 5 million votes, making it impossible for the rival Kuomintang candidate Hou Yu-ih to catch up.

  • Hou conceded shortly thereafter and congratulated Lai on the victory.

State of play: The DPP lost control of the legislature.

  • While no party secured a majority, KMT and third-party Taiwan People's Party had strong showings. That means the DPP and KMT will likely be competing for TPP support for their legislative agendas, said Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taipei.

Zoom in: "This is an unprecedented victory for Lai: a third straight presidential term for the same party," Raymond Kuo, director of the RAND Corporation's Taiwan Policy Initiative, told Axios.

  • "The KMT needs serious internal reform. The TPP's relatively strong showing mostly came at their expense."

Background: The Chinese government had previously warned against voting for Lai, saying his election would "trigger cross-Strait confrontation and conflict."

  • Researchers and Taiwanese government officials accused China of election interference in the months leading up to the election.
  • Discussions of Taiwan's election were heavily censored on China's social media.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua said Saturday after the results were announced that Beijing's "stance on resolving the Taiwan question and realizing national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock."

  • Bejing firmly opposes "the separatist activities aimed at 'Taiwan independence' as well as foreign interference," he added.

The big picture: The Biden administration said earlier this week it will send an unofficial delegation including former senior officials to Taiwan after the election.

  • President Biden, when asked about the election results on Saturday, told reporters that the U.S. does not the support independence of Taiwan.
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a statement congratulated Lai and said the U.S. "is committed to maintaining cross-Strait peace and stability, and the peaceful resolution of differences, free from coercion and pressure."
  • "We look forward to working with Dr. Lai and Taiwan's leaders of all parties to advance our shared interests and values, and to further our longstanding unofficial relationship, consistent with the U.S. one China policy," he added. "We are confident that Taiwan will continue to serve as an example for all who strive for freedom, democracy, and prosperity."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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