Taiwan election: Why the outcome matters to the world

Taiwan election: Why the outcome matters to the world

All eyes are on Taiwan as the self-governing island of 23 million people goes to the polls on Saturday.

Some 19.5 million Taiwanese are voting to elect a new president and legislature.

Three men are vying to become the self-governed island’s next leader – William Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou Yu-ih of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

Whoever is elected president will shape relations with both Beijing and Washington – Taiwan is a key flashpoint in their tussle for power in this region.

It will also have crucial implications for the island’s neighbours as well as allies like Japan who are wary of Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea.

The China factor

China is among the top concerns in this election, given that its People’s Liberation Army has dialled up pressure on the island over the past year with a record number of incursions. And Beijing has made clear which presidential candidate it opposes – Mr Lai who is trying to give his party an unprecedented third straight term.

On Friday, the PLA said that it would “smash” any Taiwan independence “plots” and that it “remains on high alert at all times”. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also warned voters in Taiwan to make the “right choice”, claiming that Mr Lai would further promote separatist activities if he were elected.

“[He] would continue to follow the evil path of provoking ‘independence’ and… take Taiwan ever further away from peace and prosperity, and ever closer to war and decline,” it said in a statement which echoed warnings made earlier in the week.

Beijing has long claimed the island, but ties have especially soured in recent years under President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP.

Her careful but unwavering defence of the island’s sovereign status led to China suspending formal communications with Taiwan – Beijing said it was because of Taiwan’s refusal to accept the One China principle, which is the belief that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and will be unified with it one day.

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