Beijing loathe to ease pressure despite Taiwan election landslide
By Jerome TAYLOR, Amber WANG
Taipei (AFP) Jan 12, 2020
China's campaign to isolate Taiwan has backfired spectacularly with voters handing President Tsai Ing-wen a landslide second term -- but authoritarian Beijing is unlikely to abandon its diplomatic cudgel anytime soon, analysts say.
Tsai's re-election on Saturday with a record 8.2 million votes, or 57 percent, was a forceful rebuke of Chinese President Xi Jinping's push to heap economic and diplomatic pressure on the self-ruled island.
But this attempt to encourage support for the more Beijing-friendly opposition pushed Taiwanese voters instead in droves towards Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which leans towards independence.
The result keeps Taiwan on a collision course with its giant neighbour -- which views the island as its own territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.
"Beijing will want to quickly put the squeeze on a second Tsai term, poaching allies and reducing its international space and perhaps increasing demonstrations of military might," Jonathan Sullivan, a Taiwan expert at Britain's University of Nottingham, told AFP.
"A Tsai victory means that Beijing will likely not just maintain (its) policies but seek to increase the pressure," added Clayton Dube at the University of Southern California.
Beijing loathes Tsai because she refuses to abide by their view that Taiwan is part of "one China".
It has long warned that any formal declaration of independence would be a red line that could spark an invasion -- a move that could push China into direct conflict with the US, which remains Taiwan's main military ally.
- Deliberate ambiguity -
While Chinese state media portrays Tsai as an independence advocate -- and many in her DPP party favour a formal declaration -- Tsai holds a deliberately more ambiguous stance.
She maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation and argues that only its 23 million inhabitants, not Beijing, should decide the island's future.
After she was first elected in 2016, Tsai reached out for cross-strait talks without preconditions.
But China responded by cutting off official communication with her government, ramping up military drills and turning the screw on the economy by drastically reducing mainland tourists.
It also poached seven of Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies, leaving just 15 nations that still recognise the island as a legitimate country.
Rather than cave, Tsai moulded herself as a defender of liberal democratic values.
During her campaign for re-election, she also repeatedly invoked the political unrest in nearby Hong Kong as a warning of what might await Taiwan should Beijing take control.
The plan worked -- 1.3 million more people voted for her in 2020 than 2016.
Her main rival Han Kuo-yu from the Kuomintang party (KMT), who pushed for warmer ties with China, won just 39 percent of the vote.
"If Beijing's goal was to compel unification then they have certainly failed," Bonnie Glaser, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.
"Polls (in Taiwan) consistently show that support for unification is waning and support for independence is growing, with the majority still supporting the preservation of the status quo," she added.
- Peace, dialogue -
During her victory speech on Saturday night, Tsai repeated her offer of talks with Beijing.
"Peace, parity, democracy and dialogue are the keys to stability," she said, adding Taiwan would "never concede to threats".
But the initial response from across the strait suggests an olive branch is unlikely.
In a commentary on Sunday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua accused Tsai of using "dirty tactics such as cheating, repression and intimidation", without citing evidence or examples.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told Xinhua he hoped the international community would "understand and support the just cause of Chinese people to oppose the secessionist activities for 'Taiwan independence' and realise national reunification".
Hung Chin-fu, an analyst at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University, said Beijing would bide its time in responding to Tsai's landslide victory, but a U-turn was unlikely.
"I think it's not to Beijing's political advantage to take immediate aggressive actions against Taiwan and it will take some time to wait and see," he said.
One way to pressure Tsai might be to secure another quick diplomatic defection.
Fabrizio Bozzato, a research fellow at the University of Rome La Sapienza, said the Vatican -- the only place in Europe that still recognises Taiwan over China -- was a vulnerable scalp for Beijing to take.
"The Vatican would likely respond positively for the sake of achieving an historic deal with China," he said.
"Pope Francis appears to be determined to go down in history as the Pope who opened the door of China."
The state of Taiwan: Five things to know
Here are some key facts about the self-ruled democratic island, which has its own currency, flag, military and government but is not recognised as an independent state by the UN and most nations.
- China split -
After being defeated by the Communist Party in 1949, China's Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist government fled to the island province of Taiwan 180 kilometres (110 miles) off the mainland.
President Chiang Kai-shek, joined by two million supporters, set up his authoritarian Republic of China (ROC) government in Taipei. This remains Taiwan's official name.
The Communists established the People's Republic of China in Beijing, and have since insisted the island must be reintegrated, threatening force should it declare independence.
In 1991 Taiwan lifted emergency rule, unilaterally ending the state of war with China, and has emerged a vibrant liberal democracy. The first direct talks between Beijing and Taipei were held two years later.
Relations plummeted with the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rejects Beijing's "one China" principle.
In a historical irony, the modern-day version of the Kuomintang is the party that now pushes much warmer ties with communist China.
- Struggle for recognition -
Today home to 23 million people, the island has been progressively squeezed off the international stage by the more powerful Beijing.
The ROC government held a seat at the United Nations until the world body switched recognition to Beijing in 1971, and other countries and international groups soon followed suit.
Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, agreeing it was the only representative of China.
But the United States has remained deliberately ambiguous on Taiwan's future status and is bound by an act of Congress to maintain de facto diplomatic ties, as well as supply the island with weapons to defend itself.
Over the years, Beijing has convinced most countries to sever diplomatic ties with Taipei and keep it out of international bodies such as the World Health Organization.
Last year the Solomon Islands and Kiribati became the latest to defect, leaving Taiwan recognised by just 15 states -- most of them minnows in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as the Vatican.
- Electronics giant -
Taiwan's export-based economy is one of the largest in Asia, but is dwarfed by that of China on which it depends for much of its business.
Transformed into a major tech manufacturing hub, the island is home to industry giants such as Foxconn, the world's largest electronic devices manufacturer, which assembles gadgets for major brands including Apple and Huawei.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the world's leading contract microchip maker, also supplying Apple and other tech giants.
Despite the global trade war, Taiwan posted third-quarter GDP growth of 2.9 percent last year, far outpacing neighbours such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.
- Asian pioneer -
Last May, Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage. It held its first same-sex weddings days later.
It is also a leader in gender equality, with 38 percent of seats in the 2016-elected parliament held by women, the highest proportion in Asia.
Tsai, who is running for re-election, is its first female president.
Taipei 101 was the world's tallest building, at more than 500 metres (1,670 feet), until 2010 when it was overtaken by Dubai's Burj Khalifa.
- Indigenous inhabitants -
The vast majority of Taiwan's population are Han Chinese, with just two percent from its original indigenous tribes.
Most scholars consider Taiwan and parts of Southeast Asia as the original source of the Austronesians, who include people in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, as well as New Zealand's Maoris, and Polynesians in Hawaii.
Taiwan's indigenous people suffered cultural and economic catastrophe once settlers landed on the island's shores from the 17th century.
Tsai, the first president with partial indigenous ancestry, via her grandmother, made history in 2016 when she formally apologised for the past.
But indigenous groups remain marginalised, with wages about 40 percent below the national average and higher unemployment.
Taiwan rivals in final election push as China's shadow looms
Taipei (AFP) Jan 10, 2020
Taiwan's presidential rivals will hold mass rallies on Friday in a final push to convince voters ahead of a closely watched election that looks set to infuriate China and send ripples far beyond its borders. Some 19 million people are eligible to vote on Saturday to choose between two leaders with very different visions for Taiwan's future - in particular how close the self-ruled island should tack to its giant neighbour. Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day re ... read more
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