Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and newly re-elected Vice President William Lai greet the crowd in front of their campaign headquarters in Taipei, January 11, 2020. - Sam Yeh / AFP

The outgoing President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned against Beijing's authoritarianism, was re-elected this Saturday for a new term despite the campaign of economic and diplomatic intimidation of the communist power to isolate the island.

"Taiwan has shown the world how much we love our free and democratic way of life and our nation," said Tsai Ing-wen, re-elected with 57.1% of the votes according to the final results, to the press. China considers Taiwan one of its provinces and has vowed to one day regain control, by force if necessary.

"Peace is for China to abandon its threats against Taiwan"

"Peace is that China abandons its threats against Taiwan," said the 63-year-old president, who was just re-elected. "I hope that the authorities in Beijing will understand that Taiwan, a democratic country, and that our democratically elected government, will not give in to threats and intimidation," added Tsai Ing-wen.

Taiwan, an island of some 23 million people, has been politically separated from China for seven decades. However, the island is only considered an independent country by a handful of capitals, the number of which has melted in recent years. 19 million Taiwanese voters were called upon to decide between two divergent visions of the future of the territory and its relations with Beijing, its largest trading partner.

His opponent admitted his defeat

President Tsai Ing-wen presents herself as the guarantor of democratic values, facing the communist power deemed authoritarian of Chinese President Xi Jinping. This position provoked the ire of Beijing, which, since it took over the presidency of Taiwan in 2016, has not stopped hardening the tone.

In this presidential race, Tsai Ing-wen was opposed to Han Kuo-yu, a member of the opposition Kuomintang party, who argues that better relations with Beijing could bring economic benefits to Taiwan. Han Kuo-yu, who admitted defeat, told a crowd of voters in his southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung that he called President Tsai to congratulate her. "She has a new mandate for the next four years," he told them.

"A slap"

"Tsai Ing-wen's victory is a slap in the face of Beijing because the Taiwanese did not give in to the intimidation," said political analyst Hung Chin-fu of National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. Since the arrival of Tsai Ing-wen in power, Beijing has cut official communications with the island, intensified its military exercises, hardened economic pressures and snatched from Taiwan seven of its diplomatic allies.

Tensions are high between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait because Tsai Ing-wen refuses to recognize the principle of the unity of Taiwan and China within the same country, as claimed by the communist power. Beijing did not react immediately to the results of the Taiwanese presidential election. But obviously, "he will not be happy," predicts Joshua Eisenman, political analyst at Notre Dame University in the United States. "Will he continue his firmness towards Tsai Ing-wen or opt for a more flexible approach?" (...) that's the big question, ”he says.

Cyberattacks, aircraft carriers

So far, Beijing's pressures on the administration of Tsai Ing-wen have been "relatively weak," said Jonathan Sullivan, a Chinese specialist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. But Tsai Ing-wen's victory should be a game changer and Beijing will "quickly want to put pressure on its second term," he warns.

Cyberattacks, investments in the island's media to obtain a more favorable image, and even demonstrations of military force cannot be ruled out, says Jonathan Sullivan. Already at the end of December, Beijing sent the “Shandong”, its first aircraft carrier of 100% Chinese design, to the Taiwan Strait.


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