World

Taiwan's independence-leaning president wins 2nd term

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has won a second term, signalling strong voter support for her tough stance against China.

Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen's closest rival was pro-Beijing candidate

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen celebrates her re-election victory with supporters in Taipei. (Chiang Ying-yin/The Associated Press)

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has won a second term, signalling strong voter support for her tough stance against China.

Tsai defeated two challengers in Saturday's election — Han Kuo-yu of the rival Nationalist Party and James Soong of the smaller People First Party.

Han told supporters in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where he is mayor, that he had called to congratulate Tsai on her victory.

Voters chose Tsai's tough stance against China over Han's arguments for friendlier ties with Beijing, which considers self-governing Taiwan a renegade province to be brought under its control, by force if necessary.

China's communist leaders have taken an especially hard line against Tsai since her 2016 inauguration, infuriated by her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan and the mainland belong to a single China. Her victory will likely deepen that deadlock and ratchet up pressure from Beijing.

A supporter of President Tsai Ing-wen shows the word 'Democracy' on his haircut as supporters gather to watch early election returns in Taipei. (Chiang Ying-ying/The Associated Press)

Taiwan has developed its own identity since separating from China during the civil war in 1949 but has never declared formal independence. Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island of 23 million people and threatens to use force to seize control if necessary.

For many in Taiwan, months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, have driven home the contrast between their democratically governed island and authoritarian, communist-ruled mainland China.

Since its transition to full democracy beginning in the 1980s, Taiwan has increasingly asserted its independent identity from China even though it is not recognized by the United Nations or any major nation.

Tsai had portrayed the election as a chance to protect Taiwan's democracy.

Han Kuo-Yu, who lost his bid to become president under Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, speaks during a rally outside campaign headquarters on Saturday in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

"Let us tell the world with our own votes that Taiwanese are determined to defend sovereignty, determined to guard democracy and determined to persist in reforms," she said at a rally late Friday.

The Nationalist Party's Han has said Taiwan should be more open to negotiations with China, in contrast to Tsai, who has dismissed Beijing's overtures. At his last rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of people in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, he focused on practical issues such as improving education and the economy.

"I want to attract massive investments. I want products to be exported nonstop," he said.

The Hong Kong protests have undermined support in Taiwan for the "one country, two systems" approach Beijing has championed for governing both that former British colony and Taiwan.

Fears of Chinese interference in Taiwan's politics and an uptick in the economy helped Tsai regain an edge after a dire electoral setback for her Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, 14 months ago.

The Nationalists, meanwhile, struggled to find candidates who could fire up their pro-China supporters and win over young Taiwanese who increasingly favour the DPP.

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