Carlo Nordio

Taiwan elections, Lai is president. How will China react?

Taiwan, the first elections of 2024 (among the most awaited) have an outcome: Lai Ching-te has been elected president.
Official results from the Central Election Commission show that 64-year-old Lai, a long-time favorite in the election, secured more than 40% of the approximately 13.9 million votes cast in a poll that saw a turnout of 70.6 %.
New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih, of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, received 33 percent of the vote, while Ko Wen-je, of the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) came in third with about 26 percent.
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In the run-up to the election, China had called Lai a dangerous separatist and called on the people of Taiwan to make the right choice, highlighting the DPP's "extreme harm of the Taiwan independence line." Lai said he would maintain the status quo in cross-Strait relations but was "determined to safeguard Taiwan from China's threats and intimidation." Now all the spotlights are turning on Beijing: will there be a reaction to this victory? Taiwan elections: Lai wins the presidency.
Open challenge to China? The outcome of Taiwan's presidential election on January 13 is likely to irritate Beijing, according to analysts.
China, in fact, has repeatedly labeled Lai as a "stubborn worker for the island's independence" and a dangerous separatist.
There are also fears that this could in turn affect already tense China-US relations and security in the wider Indo-Pacific region, with the dragon having stepped up military activity in the Taiwan Strait and other nearby waters.
“As president, I have an important responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said at a press conference, in an official translation reported on CNBC.
“I will act in accordance with our free and democratic constitutional order, in a balanced manner and maintaining the cross-Strait status quo,” he added.
“According to the principles of dignity and equality, we will use exchanges to replace obstructionism, dialogue to replace confrontation, and confidently present exchanges and cooperation with China.” The DPP, the ruling party in Taiwan and confirmed with today's vote, has refused to recognize the "1992 consensus", a term that refers to a tacit agreement reached between Beijing and Taipei that year that there is only "one China”, leaving various possibilities of interpretation open.
This has led Beijing to refuse to engage with any DPP-led government, which is likely to be repeated under the Lai administration.
Lev Nachman, professor of political science at National Chengchi University stressed that tensions are unlikely to ease, but the cold peace that currently exists is still very sustainable.
Even if both sides don't like it, the status quo keeps the peace and will be the most acceptable solution for both.
What can happen after the Taiwan elections? The DPP's re-election for a third consecutive term will test the recent – fragile – stabilization of ties between Beijing and Washington, after their leaders held talks in California in November.
Any resurgence of tensions between the two superpowers increases the risk that a miscalculation in the Taiwan Strait will lead to conflict.
Biden will send a bipartisan delegation of former top officials to the island after the election, the Financial Times previously reported.
This move is likely to elicit a response from Beijing, which opposes nations having official contact with the Taipei government.
The decision by Taiwanese voters to support Lai, who favors close ties with Washington, highlights that their desire to keep China at arm's length has outweighed growing frustrations over domestic issues, such as high real estate prices and higher wage growth.
slower than expected.
Taiwanese security officials have said they do not expect China to conduct large military exercises around the island immediately after the election, but see Beijing increasing pressure in other ways before the new president takes office in May.
The dragon is likely to exert "great pressure" in a bid to influence the new president's inaugural speech on May 20, which is expected to set the tone for the new administration's China policy, said an official with knowledge of Taiwan's security planning to Reuters.
While large-scale military exercises near Taiwan soon after the vote are unlikely, Beijing is likely to stage maneuvers near the island after March due to more favorable weather and maritime conditions, the official said.
The potential for further tensions over Taiwan, especially after China staged two rounds of major war exercises near the island in April last year and August 2022, is being closely monitored in the region and by Washington and its allies.
The ingredients for seeing an escalation of tension in Asia are all there.

Author: A.W.M.

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