Voters in Taiwan defied a heavy pressure campaign from China to re-elect its ruling Democratic Progressive Party for a third straight term Saturday — choosing Beijing’s least favored candidate in a win that will likely stoke further tensions between the island democracy and its communist neighbor.
Sitting Vice President Lai Ching-te — who Beijing has branded a “troublemaker” — claimed victory with 40% of the vote in a three-way race.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own, had favored Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang, who came in second with 33% of the vote. Hou had promised to restart diplomatic talks with the CCP.
The upstart Taiwan People’s Party, led by Ko Wen-je, got 26% of the vote for a third-place finish.
“The Taiwanese people have successfully resisted efforts from external forces to influence this election,” Lai exulted in his acceptance speech.
“We have shown the world how much we cherish our democracy,” Lai said. “This is our unwavering commitment.”
The CCP has long denounced Lai and his term-limited DPP partner, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, as “separatists” for rejecting China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan and its stated goal of reunification.
Chen Binhua, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said the results would not alter China’s policies.
“Our stance on resolving the Taiwan question and realizing national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock,” Binhua said, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
President Biden said Saturday that US policy toward Taiwan would also remain unchanged.
“We do not support independence,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House for a weekend at Camp David.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai in an official statement.
“The United States is committed to maintaining cross-Strait peace and stability, and the peaceful resolution of differences, free from coercion and pressure,” Blinken said. “We look forward to working with Dr. Lai and Taiwan’s leaders of all parties to advance our shared interests and values, and to further our longstanding unofficial relationship, consistent with the U.S. one-China policy.”
Meanwhile, Russia expressed support for China’s reunification plans — two weeks after Xi Jinping vowed to end Taiwanese independence in a New Year’s address.
Moscow “continues to consider Taiwan an integral part of China,” a spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry said Saturday.
“The expectation is that Beijing will go hard on Lai,” Yun Sun, a China foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center think tank, told the Wall Street Journal — with expanded military drills in Taiwan’s waters, drone flights over its territory, and economic sanctions likely in the offing.