Taiwan’s vote of defiance

The voters were aware of the imminent unification of Taiwan and mainland China, but as the outcome of the election demonstrated, they preferred to have their aspirations for freedom spread across the strait and beyond.


January 17, 2024

JAKARTA – The value of freedom is so precious to the Taiwanese people that they bravely defied persistent warnings and intimidations, including a military show of force from mainland China, and elected Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as their new president.

Prior to the Jan. 13 election, Beijing had repeatedly warned of dire consequences Taiwan would face for electing a figure who would campaign for a breakaway republic.

The voters were aware of the imminent unification of Taiwan and mainland China, but as the outcome of the election demonstrated, they preferred to have their aspirations for freedom spread across the strait and beyond.

By international norms, the “One China” policy dictates Cross-Strait affairs. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and the world recognizes Beijing’s right to reunify Taiwan. However, Taiwanese people see themselves as different from Chinese people from the mainland.

“The election has shown the world the commitment of the Taiwanese people to democracy, which I hope China can understand,” the jubilant Lai said in his victory speech on Saturday.

Lai’s victory is not surprising because of his high popularity rating several months before the election. “Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” Chen Binhua, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council spokesperson, said on Saturday.

“This election cannot change the basic pattern and the development of Cross-Strait relations, nor can it change the common desire of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to draw closer,” Chen added, according to a CNBC translation of a report from Xinhua.

President Xi had used both military muscle and soft power to attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people. He knows very well that Taiwan is economically advanced, thanks in part to its leading semiconductor industry.

Beijing has repeatedly assured us that Taiwan will always be free and autonomous under the “One country, two systems” arrangement. However, the Taiwanese people have learned from the experience of Hong Kong, where such a system is in place.

When the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, China guaranteed the territory would retain its legal and economic system and people’s rights and freedoms for 50 years as a special administrative region (SAR) of China. Since 2022, however, “One country, two systems” has been facing challenges in Hong Kong.

The message of freedom that transpired in the Taiwan election applies everywhere in the world, including in China and Indonesia. In the case of Indonesia, although the United Nations fully recognizes Papua as part of Indonesia, aspirations for freedom in the natural resources-rich territory have drawn the attention of the international community.

Lai, the incumbent vice president, won over 5.5 million votes or 40.1 percent of the electorate. He declared victory on Saturday evening just hours after voting ended. His two rivals from Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) had conceded defeat.

Lai and his party still need to form a coalition with opposition parties to establish a solid government.

Both the KMT and TPP have been known to demand wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing, while the ruling DPP takes a stronger stance.

The third consecutive presidential election win for the DPP only means the voters have maintained their trust in the ruling party’s achievements on the domestic agenda and its defiance of China. The Cross-Strait relations have been especially tense under outgoing president Tsai Ing-wen.

China has repeatedly attacked the DPP because of its “pro-independence” platform, and has warned outside forces against fishing in the murky waters. But the warnings have not worked as expected.

The world, including ASEAN, is anxiously watching the aftermath of Taiwan’s election regarding its relationship with the mainland. During summits, ASEAN leaders have expressed their hope for maximum restraint because tension in the Taiwan Strait could lead to “open and unpredictable consequences”, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

We believe that China will resolve this delicate matter because it is in its national interest to protect global security and economic stability.

scroll to top