Taiwan Elections 2020: Is China Ready for President Tsai’s Second Term?

Kaustav Padmapati
January 19, 2020


Image Courtesy: Japan Times

In the recently held election in Taiwan, Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) independence-leaning leader Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide victory in the Presidential election for the second term and pledged to maintain peace with China. Securing record 57.1 percent votes, President Tsai won over her two opponents Han Kuo yu from the Kuomintang (KMT) and James Soong from People First Party (PFP). Pro-Independence DPP also remained as the majority in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan despite losing seven seats. Taiwan has been conducting presidential and legislative elections simultaneously since 2012. 

Taiwan election was historic as the incumbent won more votes than any other presidential candidate in Taiwan’s recent history. President Tsai’s landslide re-victory is a severe blow to China’s aggressive design to control Taiwan’s politics. Beijing and Taipei’s bilateral relation has not been very smooth under President Tsai’s leadership. 

President Tsai’s election campaign was based on a number of progressive reforms like clean energy, LGBT rights, pension reform as opposed to the conservative policies of KMT. According to a few Taiwan experts, a number of factors worked in favor of Tsai’s victory, including the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. In addition, Taiwanese were not happy with a slow economy due to Beijing’s coercive measures. However, the main reason for this historic victory is DPP’s strong opposition to China’s desire for reunification. 

The current course of events may predict that the future of the cross-strait ties will be rockier after President Tsai’s victory. For China, Taiwan is a renegade province and must be reunited in the future. China’s reaction to Tsai’s victory was sharp as just two days later, Wang Wi, Chinese Foreign Minister, dismissed her victory and warned supporters of Taiwan’s independence. Minister Wang even stated “splitting the country is doomed to leave a name that will stink for eternity.” For President Xi Jinping, President Tsai’s pro-independence stand is a major threat to his larger goal of national rejuvenation. In a speech on January 2019, Xi even made it clear that China was willing to use force if needed for reunification. He took number of measures to punish Taiwan and a travel ban was issued in 2018 that stopped mainland tourists from traveling to the island. Taiwan Strait also witnessed an intensification of naval drills along with the Shandong, China’s first domestically manufactured aircraft carrier, sailing through the Strait. Even China persuaded seven diplomatic allies of Taipei to cut off diplomatic ties with the latter. 

PRC always considers “Taiwan” is an inseparable part of China and stands for only “One China”. Historically, Taiwan was never always been a part of China. PRC never exercised any authority over Taiwan. The “One China” principle also provides special rights and privileges to almost autonomous “Taiwan”, even greater than other Chinese territories like Hong Kong and Macau. However, Taiwan enjoys such autonomy only within “One China,” not as an equal or separate sovereign entity.1 

Historically, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been claiming sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, which is based on the “One China” principle. PRC automatically replaced the Republic of China (ROC) after its proclamation on the foundation day, and declared itself to be the “lone legal government of the whole of China”. Beijing also convinced the international community to follow the “One China Principle” and intelligently turned the issue of sovereignty of Taiwan into an internal affair of China. 

According to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan is an independent country contrary to KMT’s claim that it is an inseparable part of China. Taiwan evolved into a mature democracy under the efforts of DPP. For China, democratic Taiwan is its own territory, and it has resorted to continuous military threats and economic tactics to get the island to accept its authority. Interestingly, Taiwan is an unofficial ally of the United States and a potential flashpoint in the US-China-Taiwan triangular relations. The US selling arms to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 is a source of irritation for Beijing. Some of the important defense deals that happened during Tsai presidency included the US approved the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion, and the sale of 66 F-16Vs in an $8 billion deal. 

The evolution of DPP as a leading democratic force in Taiwan has always created discomfort for the PRC. Taiwan’s dramatic democratic transition increased the political gaps between the two sides of the Strait and made it extremely difficult for Taipei to strike a deal with Beijing on reunification without the consent of Taiwanese people. We must note that 90 percent of current voters in Taiwan are born after the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. According to surveys conducted, 56.9 percent of people in Taiwan consider themselves to be solely Taiwanese. These new generation Taiwanese feel less connected with mainland China as 80 percent of the population is against unification. 

Taiwan’s election results are a clear indication that China’s pressure tactics did not work to stop the growing nationalistic sentiment in Taiwan. Hong Kong is another example where China’s “One Country, Two systems” has failed measurably. China has been trying hard to persuade Taiwan to embrace the same model as a peaceful technique for reunification. Fearing that Taiwan might turn into another Hong Kong, Tsai’s DPP campaigned to preserve and protect Taiwan’s democracy. Her victory is a clear signal of failure of China’s Taiwan policy. 

On 15th January 2020, President Tsai urged China to review its policies towards Taiwan and requested China to understand the opinion and will expressed by Taiwanese people in this election. She also wants to focus more on Taiwan’s ties with South and Southeast Asia under the “New Southbound Policy.” With a robust democratic support base, President Tsai is ready for new challenges in the Cross-Strait relations. 


1. Romberg, Alan D (2003), Rein In at the Brink of the Precipice: American Policy Toward Taiwan and US- PRC Relations, The Henry L Stimson Centre, Washington DC. 

*** The author is an Assistant Professor at the Royal Global University, Guwahati ***