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The re-election of Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic People’s Party (DPP) as the President of Taiwan on 11 January 2020 is nothing short of historical. Tsai won the re-election with a 57.1 percent of votes and a clear majority. Since Tsai came to power in 2016, Beijing had undertaken concerted efforts to limit the ‘diplomatic’ space available to her. The number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies has reduced to 15 under Tsai’s first term.Manycountries have switched their diplomatic relationship from Taipei to Beijing in the last four years. In order to further ‘punish’ Taiwan for electing Tsai of the DPP, Beijing used its financial and economic clout to wean away diplomatic allies.However, the re-election of Tsai Ing-wen underscores the argument that Beijing needs to make its Taiwan policy more nuanced as the hard approach has definitely failed.


Since Tsai Ing-wen became the President in 2016, Taipei has lost seven diplomatic allies. The countries that have switched their diplomatic recognitions are the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Burkina Faso and Panama. Beijing lured these countries with the promise of financial assistance and infrastructure development. Beijing essentially used ‘dollar diplomacy’ to reduce Taipei’s diplomatic space drastically.


Tsai Ing-wen’ssecond victory clearly shows that the assertive and heavy-handed approach adopted by China under Xi Jinping towards Taiwan has backfired. It calls for not just a rethink and revisit of Beijing’s Taiwan policy but also a study of the changes within Taiwan thatplayed a role in Tsai’s re-election. There is also a need to look at the ways this re-election will affect the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


Xi Jinping has been consistently making statements that China wouldnot give up an inch of its territory. Xi has made it clear that he would not shy away from using force for reunification and that the Taiwan question should not be left to future generations. The constant threat from Beijing makes it appear that even though China may not attack Taiwan immediately the threat of war is constant. During the 1996 elections, Beijing had fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait while before the recent election Chinese aircraft carrier was deployed.


However, the election results highlight that the Taiwanese people are confident in Tsai’s leadership and Beijing’s constant ‘talk’ of its readiness to use force against Taiwan, if the people voted the DPP back into power, clearly did not achieve the desired result from China’s perspective. The Taiwanese people showed confidence in their democracy and clearly did not get swayed by Beijing’s constant bullying. No surprise then that in her winning speech, Tsai said, “I also hope that the Beijing authorities understand that democratic Taiwan, and our democratically elected government, will not concede to threats and intimidation.”


This re-election also raises question about the future of China-Taiwan relations and calls for introspection by the Chinese leadership as to where have they gone wrong in their handling of Taiwan. In the last four years, Beijing had made it amply clear that re-election of Tsai would have a negative impact on the cross-strait relations. Thus, it is no surprise that Beijing expressed its anger and discomfort towards officials from the United States (US), Japan, the UKand the European Union (EU) for congratulating Tsai on her victory. In a statement issued by the foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang pointed out “The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this…we oppose any form of official exchange between Taiwan and countries that have established diplomatic relations with China.” What is interesting is that Tsai has not accepted the ‘One-China Principle’ and this was a primary factor in pushing Beijing to adopt a more aggressive stance. Tsai had refused to accept the “1992 Consensus”. According to the 1992 Consensus, both sides accept that there is ‘one China’ but they have different meanings for one China.


Does this show that Taiwan has moved towards a total Taiwanization where the people think of themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese? Does this also show that the recent protests in Hong Kong have made it amply clear to Taiwan that the ‘one-country, two systems’ formula will only push them towards more integration with China? Does the re-election of Tsai hint at a rising nationalism within Taiwan?


Keeping these questions in mind, the strongest conclusion one can draw from the result is that the 23 million people of Taiwan are weary of the increasing Chinese influence and are now not convinced about the ‘one country, two systems’ formula. The ongoing protests in Hong Kong have underscored the argument that this formula has failed to work. The regions thathave accepted this formula are under constant pressure from Beijing to fully assimilate and any promise of autonomy under the formula is not respected by Beijing.


Beijing has constantly called for re-unification with Taiwan using the formula of ‘one country, two systems’.However, the re-election is a clear indication that the Taiwanese people believe that Taiwan is not Hong Kong and is rather a flourishing democracy. The people are also not comfortable with greater integration with China as the price for that will be their democratic freedom. In the words of Tsai Chia-hung, Director of the Election Study Center at the Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, “The relationship between Taiwan and China is always a dominant issue in Taiwan’s elections…people are really worried about the future of Taiwan and they…want to voice their concern over the relationship between Taiwan and China.”


This election has made it clear that the mandate of the Taiwanese people is against the growing ‘bullying’ by China and more for democracy. Taiwanese people chose to re-electTsai into power despite the increasing Chinese pressure globally and the reducing diplomatic space. Thus it was no surprise that a large number of people actually flew back to Taiwan to cast their vote in this election. According to a survey conducted by the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center (ESC) poll, 56.9 percent of people identified themselves as Taiwanese which is a majority showing that a large section of people identify themselves as Taiwanese. The generation that had moved to Taiwan in 1949 is really old now or no more; and thus it appears that the younger generation relates more with the idea of Taiwanese than Chinese.


The intimidation tactics adopted by Beijing have not achieved the result it was aiming for, which was Tsai’s defeat and the election of a more pro-Beijing candidate. China would have been happy if the President of Taiwan belonged to the Kuomintang (KMT), a party that has continued to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. This also calls for an introspection as to what should Beijing do next and how it needs to formulate and adapt its cross-strait strategy.


It would not be far-fetched to say that this result will greatly affect the CCP’s domestic image. The ideas of China Dream and reunification arevery crucial for the overall domestic peace and stability,as well as for the future of the CCP. China regards Taiwan as a core issue and any indication that the island is drifting towards independence will increase domestic pressure on the CCP to be more aggressive. Beijing has always used the idea of re-unification to promote the idea of national rejuvenation. Taiwan is intrinsically linked to the idea of a stronger CCP and if it appears to be moving away from China, the CCP’s overall legitimacy to rule may also be questioned.


If China unleashes its nationalistic pressure and aggressiveness, it may actually backfire as the recent election underscores. What Beijing needs is a more nuanced approach towards Taiwan as it is a very important issue for the CCP and this is an indication that as China has changed over the last 70 years, so has Taiwan. The strong hand approach used by Beijing has not gained the expected results. The results show that Taiwan has disregarded the constant vocal threat from Beijing of using military if Taiwan voted DPP back in power. Keeping in mindthat developments related to Taiwan are intertwined with the future of the CCP, the Chinese leadership has to look for a better approach. Beijing needs the leadership in Taiwan to favour the existing status-quo rather than independence. However, the refusal of Tsai to accept the 1992 Consensus has further complicated Beijing’s task. Leadership on both sides will have to discuss and talk with each other rather than at each other for a better future relationship as well as for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.