Taiwan’s Ruling Party Candidate Lai Wins Presidency in Setback for Beijing

by EditorL

Confetti flies over the stage and crowd as Taiwan’s Vice President and presidential-elect from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te (center L) and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim (centre R) speak to supporters at a rally at the party’s headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan. 13, 2024. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)

TAIPEI, Taiwan—The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has secured the presidency for another four years, a result that means Taiwan and the United States will likely continue to work closely as partners in the face of challenges from Beijing.

The DPP presidential candidate, current Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, secured over 5.5 million votes, or about 40 percent of the ballot, defeating two other candidates. His victory means that his running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, who stepped down as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States in November, will be the new vice president.

Hou Yu-ih, the current New Taipei City mayor and the presidential candidate of the main opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT), finished second with about 4.6 million votes. In third place with about 3.6 million votes is Ko Wen-je, former Taipei mayor and the presidential candidate of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a relatively new party founded in 2019.

In his victory speech, Mr. Lai said “Taiwan has achieved a victory for the community of democracies.”

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism we will stand on the side of democracy, the Republic of China, Taiwan will continue to walk side by side with democracies from around the world,” Mr. Lai said, referring to Taiwan’s official name.

“Through our actions, the Taiwanese people have successfully resisted efforts from external forces to influence this election,” he added, a veiled remark to China’s efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s elections. “We trust that only the people of Taiwan have the right to choose their own president.”

Mr. Lai emphasized that he will maintain the current status quo across the Taiwan Strait. “As long as there is dignity and parity between two sides of the street, Taiwan is very willing to engage in dialogues with China,” he added.

The president-elect also praised President Tsai Ing-wen, the current DPP chairwoman, saying that her foreign policy and national defense policy “have received recognition from the international community.”

“President Tsai has been extending goodwill [to China] many times in the past eight years. However, China did not provide the response that should have been there,” Mr. Lai said. Ms. Tsai has been president since 2016, winning two four-year terms.

“So in the future, we hope that China will recognize the new situation and understand that only peace benefits both sides of the strait,” he added. “In addition, global peace and stability depend upon the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, we hope that China will understand the situation because China also has a responsibility.”

Mr. Lai and Ms. Hsiao are scheduled to be inaugurated on May 20.

The elections came amid the backdrop of China’s increasing aggression and hostility against Taiwan, a self-ruled island that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aims to take over. Meanwhile, Taiwan enjoys bipartisan support in Congress in preserving its democracy and way of life.

China, which has been sending military planes and vessels to areas near Taiwan in recent years, continued its aggression on election day. Taiwan’s defense ministry reported on Saturday that it had detected eight Chinese military planes and six military vessels near the island in the 24 hours before 6 a.m. on Saturday.

Mr. Lai’s victory is likely upsetting to the Chinese regime, which traditionally favors KMT candidates. Compared to the DPP, the KMT sees Beijing as less threatening to Taiwan’s national security.

Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the Chinese regime’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement that election results in Taiwan will not change China’s resolve to re-unite with Taiwan, saying Beijing’s “determination is as firm as a rock.”

Taiwanese votes also went to polls to choose legislators for Taiwan’s parliament on Saturday. No party has won a majority—meaning that the DPP has lost its legislative majority under the Tsai administration.

Mr. Lai has indicated before the elections that he will continue Ms. Tsai’s policies on foreign affairs, national defense, and cross-strait affairs.

Supporters of Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te celebrate the election returns in Taipei, Taiwan on Jan. 13, 2024. (Melina Chan/The Epoch Times)

‘Win for Democracy’ 

Outside the DPP headquarters in Taipei, many supporters of Mr. Lai told The Epoch Times that his victory means so much for the island’s democracy.

“It’s a great victory for freedom and democracy. It means so much not only for Taiwan, but for Asia, and for the rest of the world. It is [a] refutation of [the] CCP’s influence and encroachment and military threats,” said Zhou Fenguo, executive director of U.S.-based advocacy group Humanitarian China.

He added, “I’m very happy that Taiwan people [have] again, proven that they can select their own government in a very peaceful way.”

Mr. Zhou praised Taiwan, saying the island “is a beacon for freedom and democracy in Asia.”

“It’s also a first line of defense against [the] CCP’s influence, which is the existential threat that America is facing now,” Mr. Zhou added.

Liao Yih-ming, vice president of customer application at a semiconductor company, said Mr. Lai’s victory means that Taiwan can continue its democracy.

“Mainland China is a threat … And the other parties always want to unite [Taiwan] with them,” Mr. Liao said.

Mr. Liao expressed hope that one day China and democratic Taiwan can be good neighbors, just like the United States and Canada.

“We say no to [the] CCP and Xi Jinping,” said Taiwanese lawyer Alex Tsai. “It’s a win for democracy.”

Impact

Several Taiwanese experts spoke to EpochTV’s “Crossroads” program before the elections, providing their analysis of the different election outcomes.

Dr. Lai I-chung, president of the Taiwan-based think tank Prospect Foundation, said that if Mr. Lai were to become the new president, it would signal to the world, including China, that Taiwan would continue to “stand very strong” with its partners.

“Taiwan will continue to uphold democracy, the human rights of freedom, [and] the rule-based international order,” the think tank president said.

Mr. Lai warned that if he didn’t win Taiwan would become a loophole, allowing China to obtain technologies and goods under U.S. sanctions.

Puma Shen, one of the DPP legislator-at-large nominees and director of the Graduate School of Criminology at Taiwan’s National Taipei University, said that a Lai victory would mean Taiwan continue working with its friends and allies, working together as a deterrence against China.

Mr. Shen emphasized that Taiwan would continue to face the risk of a CCP invasion. He explained that CCP head Xi Jinping might be deceived by his own military officials, wrongfully believing that China would be guaranteed a victory if it were to attack Taiwan.

In other words, Mr. Shen said the election results on Saturday wouldn’t be the most important issue regarding a potential invasion; rather, what matters would be what’s happening domestically in China, he said.

In February last year, CIA Director William Burns said that the United States was sure “as a matter of intelligence” that Mr. Xi had instructed his military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027.

US Support

Earlier this week the Biden administration confirmed its plans of sending an unofficial delegation to Taiwan after the elections, to meet with both the president-elect and other candidates. According to Kathleen Waters, the deputy spokesperson for the National Security Council (NSC), the delegation will made up of former high-ranking officials.

On Friday, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to announce that the Senate had unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution a day earlier, to demonstrate “America’s steady, unwavering commitment and resolve in support of Taiwan’s democracy.”

According to the language of the resolution, the Senate was committed to “continuing a strong partnership across diplomatic, information, economic, and cultural domains, regardless of the outcome of Taiwan’s 2024 elections.”

The solution was led by Mr. Sullivan and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Other co-sponsors included Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

“Between the election on January 13th and the inauguration in May, the United States needs to show steady, unwavering commitment and resolve in support of Taiwan’s democracy and—critically—we need to enhance cross-strait deterrence now,” Mr. Sullivan said in a statement.

“Every Taiwan election threatens the central premise of the Chinese Communist Party—that one dictator ruling in perpetuity knows what’s best for 1.4 billion people,” Mr. Sullivan added. “Millions of Chinese on the mainland will be watching Taiwan’s upcoming election and asking the question, ‘Why can’t we do that?’ This is a giant vulnerability for Xi Jinping.”

Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), and Andy Barr (R-Ky.), co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, introduced a similar resolution in the House on Jan. 10.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that the United States stands in total solidarity with Taiwan and its commitment to democracy,” Mr. Connolly said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr. Connolly added, “In the face of relentless threats and intimidation from the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan’s leadership as a global leader in public health, advanced manufacturing, and democratic governance underscore the importance of protecting democratic institutions and rejecting authoritarianism at home and abroad.”

Mr. Díaz-Balart told The Epoch Times before the elections that support for Taiwan was “absolutely bipartisan” in Congress.

“I don’t think there’s confusion in Congress as to the nature of the Communist Party in China,” Mr. Díaz-Balart said. “I would say it’s an aggressive, evil dictatorship that murders its own people, that threatens its neighbors, that tries to spread its influence through any means possible.”

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