Tsai Ing-wen has gained reelection as President of Taiwan on Saturday evening by a landslide, defeating the populist problem of her pro-China opponent in a marketing campaign dominated by the best way to deal with rising strain from Beijing.
As of 8:30 p.m. native time, with the vote nonetheless being tallied, she had obtained a file 7.7 million votes. Han Kuo-yu, of the Kuomintang Occasion (KMT), had obtained about 5.2 million votes at the moment, in response to Bloomberg. Han advised supporters Saturday that he referred to as Tsai to congratulate her on her victory, the Related Press reported.
It’s unsure what Tsai’s victory means for cross-Strait ties. The self-governing island of 23 million—the world’s 21st greatest financial system and an influential expertise hub—is an unofficial U.S. ally and a possible flashpoint amid deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington.
In an unique interview with TIME through the marketing campaign, Tsai acknowledges that cross relations with China “have advanced right into a regional and even a worldwide challenge” given Beijing’s “political expansionist ambitions.”
Tsai, a 63-year-old former lawyer and educational, is mistrusted by China’s ruling Communist Occasion, which considers Taiwan a wayward province to be politically reunited—by power if mandatory. The candy potato-shaped island has ruled itself since successfully splitting from the mainland in 1949 following China’s civil warfare.
Though ties between the estranged neighbors have warmed over the previous few many years, China has dialed up diplomatic and financial strain since Tsai first got here to energy in 2016, as her Democratic Progressive Occasion (DDP) refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan and the mainland belong to “One China,” because the rival Nationalist Occasion maintains.
Over Tsai’s first time period, China persuaded seven diplomatic allies of Taipei to as an alternative acknowledge Beijing, in order that solely 15 stay right this moment. In August, it additionally banned unbiased Chinese language vacationers from visiting Taiwan—a major earnings stream for the very important tourism trade.
China’s strongman President Xi Jinping has referred to as political reunification—an thought opposed by some 80% of Taiwan residents—“the good development of historical past,” and senior Chinese language officers have threatened “reunifying Taiwan by power” with higher urgency over latest months.
As such, Tsai’s election triumph doesn’t remedy the problem of Beijing’s aggression. Nonetheless, Tsai expressed confidence that regardless of dwindling official recognition on the world stage, assist for Taiwan’s de facto independence stays strong.
“If a free, democratic Taiwan that stands for common values had been to face aggression from China, I really feel positive that international locations round can be extremely involved and hope very a lot that Taiwan will get the help it wants,” she advised TIME in Taipei’s Presidential workplace constructing.
“I believe the small and medium measurement international locations within the area would additionally suppose that whether it is Taiwan right this moment, it is likely to be them tomorrow.”
Nevertheless, regardless of tightened financial screws, vacationer arrivals truly grew 7% final yr to a file 11.Eight million — an indication that Tsai’s coverage of prioritizing ties with different Asian nations possibly bearing fruit. Development has additionally exceeded exceptions; in November, the federal government boosted its 2020 forecast from 2.58 to 2.72%. As well as, the Taiwanese greenback is at present at an 18-month excessive, 2019 was one of the best yr for Taiwanese shares in a decade and authorities bond yields are close to all-time lows.
This little question helped propel Tsai’s resurgence after mid-term doldrums that noticed her reputation slip to 30 factors behind her Nationalist rival at one stage. This slide owed quite a bit to drastic and fiercely unpopular reforms of Taiwan’s beneficiant state pension system, which led to disastrous native elections for her DPP in 2018.
Concerning the pension reform, “it was not one thing that we may keep away from simply because it was controversial,” presidential spokesman Alex Huang advised TIME through the marketing campaign, emphasizing how shut the scenario had come to disaster. “For any nation, if the home pension system goes bankrupt it could have a nasty impact on your entire nation and financial system, and also you wouldn’t have seen the overseas funding we now have been seeing in Taiwan.”
Except for an financial bounce, Tsai additionally benefited from the turmoil embroiling Hong Kong, the place for six months pro-democracy protesters have agitated for higher democracy. Final January, Jinping proposed the identical system of semi-autonomy—often known as “One Nation, Two System”—that governs the previous British colony as a doable route of reunification for Taiwan.
Tsai was swift to rebuff that suggestion—a call vindicated by the tear fuel and rubber bullets which have since engulfed the banking and buying and selling entrepôt, boosting her reputation particularly amongst youthful Taiwanese.
For Shelley Rigger, an East Asia skilled at Davidson Faculty in North Carolina and creator of Why Taiwan Issues, the Hong Kong protests reminded Taiwan voters, “We will’t be too complacent, and we don’t need to get again to a scenario the place our leaders are unwilling to face as much as Beijing.”
Tsai additionally needed to fend off a deluge of faux information tales and misogynistic assaults—claiming that an single, childless girl couldn’t presumably care in regards to the subsequent era—through the marketing campaign. Her administration and unbiased analysts preserve they stem from the Beijing authorities, although they deny any such interference.
—With reporting by Gladys Tsai/Taipei