“With each presidential election, Taiwan is showing the world how much we cherish our democratic way of life,” Tsai said in her victory speech. “We must work to keep our country safe and defend our sovereignty.”
Although Taiwan has a separate government, judiciary, military, and currency from China, Beijing maintains Taiwan is part of its territory and has long threatened force to unify the island with the mainland. Taiwan’s two main political parties disagree on how it should respond to Beijing’s aggression: The KMT advocates a closer economic relationship with China, and the DPP leans more toward Taiwan independence.
Though Tsai had been leading in recent weeks’ polls, a little over a year ago it seemed unlikely Tsai would win. The DPP lost control of major cities in 2018 elections, including longtime stronghold Kaohsiung, where voters elected Han as mayor. After the crushing defeat, Tsai resigned as party chair.
Yet in the past year, Beijing’s hardening approach to Taiwan, as well as the Hong Kong protests, helped Tsai become a champion for Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy. When Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a New Year’s speech in 2019 insisting that Taiwan would be unified with China through a “one country, two systems” policy like Hong Kong, Tsai rejected the idea.
Tsai’s support for the Hong Kong protests also boosted her appeal. Scenes of young people facing off against well-armed police for a chance to vote have shown Taiwanese, especially the younger generation, what could happen to Taiwan should it accept “one country, two systems.” Lisa Chen, 28, is studying in New Mexico to be a nutritionist. But she flew back to Taipei to vote for Tsai because of what she saw happening in Hong Kong.