Taiwan: World Congratulates Lai For His Victory, China Not Happy With Election Results – OpEd

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The people of Taiwan chose on Jan. 13 Vice President William Lai Ching-te, a defender of Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy, as the country’s new President, upsetting China.

Representing the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP), Lai received 5,586,019 votes or 40.05 percent of the total, according to the Central Election Commission.

“I want to thank the Taiwanese people for writing a new chapter in our democracy,” the aljazeera.com news website reported quoting Lai as saying in his victory speech. 

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy.”  

China has labelled Lai a “separatist” and “ troublemaker” over remarks he made in the past supporting Taiwan’s independence.

With its 23.93 million population and a gross domestic product of $753.52 billion, Taiwan or Republic of China (ROC) is an industrialized and high income country. Its per capita GDP is $32,408.30, much higher than China’s $12,566.10.

Communist China considers Taiwan a renegade province of China. It wants to reunify Taiwan with China by any means. China had cast the Taiwan election as a choice between “war and peace”. China has ramped up its military presence around the island in recent months, heightening fears of a possible conflict.

Taiwan, a self-governed island since 1940s, considers itself as a free, independent and democratic country. Due to “One China Policy”, many countries, including Indonesia and the U.S., do not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. 

Lai, a former doctor, and his running mate Hsiao Bi-Khim, a politician and diplomat, won in the presidential election in Taiwan.  

It is the first time since direct presidential elections began in Taiwan in 1996 that a party has won the presidency in three consecutive elections.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi won 4,671,021 votes or 33.49 percent of the total while Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je received 3,690,466 votes or 26.46 percent of the total.

There were 20 million voters in Taiwan and voter turnout was 71.86 percent in the presidential election. 

According to the Taipei Times newspaper, in 2020, the DPP’s presidential ticket won 8,170,231 votes, or 57.13 percent of the 19,311,105 registered voters, with the then-KMT presidential ticket garnering 5,522,119 votes (38.61 percent) and the People First Party’s ticket getting 608,590 votes (4.26 percent). The voter turnout in that election was 74.9 percent. 

Lai reiterated that safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait would be an important mission in his presidency, adding that he would work to maintain the “status quo,” while engaging in exchanges and dialogues with China based on an equal footing. 

Noting that he had received congratulatory telephone calls from both of his opponents, Lai said that he has also congratulated the KMT and the TPP for their legislative wins and expressed the hope that they would work together for the nation.  

Present Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is constitutionally barred from standing again after two terms in office. 

The new president and vice president are to be sworn in on May 20. 

Congratulations

Several countries, including Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, the United States, the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU countries), have congratulated the nation on its democratic achievement after the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 13.

According to the aljazeera.com, the U.S. does “not support” the independence of Taiwan, President Joe Biden said, after being asked by reporters for Washington’s position on Taiwan’s presidential vote.

The Biden administration has feared that the election, transition and new administration would escalate conflict with Beijing. 

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai on his win and the Taiwanese public “for once again demonstrating the strength of their robust democratic system and electoral process,” while reaffirming the U.S.’ commitment to cross-strait peace and stability.

Blinken added that Washington 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,” Blinken said in a statement. 

China’s reaction

According to the BBC website, China has accused the U.S. of sending “a gravely wrong signal” to those pushing for Taiwan’s independence after Jan. 13’s election result.

In a statement, China’s foreign ministry said Blinken’s congratulations violated the U.S.’s promise to maintain “only cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations” with Taiwan.

China stressed that the Taiwan question is “the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations” and said it had lodged a formal diplomatic complaint.

“China firmly opposes the U.S. having any form of official interaction with Taiwan and interfering in Taiwan affairs in any way or under any pretext.”

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson, Chen Binhua, said in a statement carried by state news agency Xinhua, adding that the DPP “cannot represent the mainstream public opinion on the island”.

But Binhua added that the vote “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification”.

The vote “will not change the basic landscape and development trend of cross-Strait relations,” the aljazaeera.com reported quoting Binhua as saying. China’s stance on “realising national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock.”

China “firmly oppose[s] the separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’ as well as foreign interference”, he added.

World’s response

According to the aljazaeera.com, the EU “welcomed” Taiwan’s presidential election and congratulated all the voters who “participated in this democratic exercise”, said in a statement.

“The EU remains concerned about growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait and opposes any unilateral attempt to change the status quo,” said the statement by a spokesperson for EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell.

“The European Union underlines that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are key to regional and global security and prosperity.”

British Foreign Minister David Cameron congratulated Lai and said he hoped Taiwan and China would renew efforts to resolve their differences peacefully.

“The elections today are testament to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy,” Cameron said in a statement.

“I hope that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will renew efforts to resolve differences peacefully through constructive dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion.”

Japan congratulated the smooth implementation of the democratic election and Lai on his victory.

“We expect that the issue surrounding Taiwan will be resolved peacefully through dialogue, thereby contributing to the peace and stability in the region,” it said in a statement, adding that Taiwan was an “extremely crucial partner” with whom Tokyo aimed to “deepen cooperation”.

Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated the people of Taiwan after the elections, but did not mention Lai.

“Guided by the pillars of democracy, human rights and peace, Canada looks forward to advance its people-to-people, science, trade & investment ties,” the ministry said in a statement on the social media platform X.

According to the Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan’s 11 diplomatic allies also congratulated Taiwan. The allies are Palau, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Guatemala, Belize, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Paraguay, Saint Lucia and Eswatini. 

Czech President Petr Pavel, according to the Taipei Times, offered his congratulations on the successful completion of the democratic elections during an interview with Czech news agency CTK. 

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement congratulated Taiwan’s voters and elected officials, adding it hoped dialogue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would resume. 

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also congratulated Lai and said the “smooth conduct of the elections is a testament to the maturity and strength of Taiwan’s democracy” while the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on X that the country looks forward to “further enhancing NZ and Taiwan’s vibrant trade, economic and cultural links.” 

South Korea hopes for peace and stability maintained across the Taiwan Strait and deeper “practical cooperation with Taiwan,” Yonhap news agency yesterday cited a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs official as saying. 

The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated Lai in a statement, adding that Singapore has a longstanding and close friendship with Taiwan and has “consistently supported the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

In the legislative elections, no political party won a majority in the Legislature Yuan, with DPP taking 51 seats and KMT taking 52 seats out of 113 total seats.

Taiwanese people sent a strong message to China in the elections that bullying and coercing cannot work and people prefer to peace, freedom and democracy.

Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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