Taiwan's independence-minded candidate wins presidency as US and China react to election

Taipei, Taiwan - Taiwan's ruling party candidate Lai Ching-te, branded a threat to peace by China, on Saturday won the island's presidential election, a vote watched closely from Beijing to Washington.

Independence-minded presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (c.) won Taiwan's closely-watched election on Saturday.
Independence-minded presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (c.) won Taiwan's closely-watched election on Saturday.  © REUTERS

Lai delivered an unprecedented third consecutive term for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after a tense campaign in which he pitched himself as the defender of Taiwan's democratic way of life.

China claims Taiwan, separated from the mainland by a 110-mile strait, as its own and says it will not rule out using force to bring about "unification", even if conflict does not appear imminent.

Beijing has in the past slammed Lai, the current vice president, as a dangerous "separatist" and on the eve of the vote, its defense ministry vowed to "crush" any move towards Taiwanese independence.

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Lai had 40.2% of the vote with ballots counted from 98% of polling stations, according to official data from Taiwan's Central Election Commission.

His main rival Hou Yu-ih of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) trailed in second place with 33.4% and conceded defeat.

"We are determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China," Lai said in his victory speech, while also pledging to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

US and China respond to Taiwan election results

Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term.
Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term.  © REUTERS

The US on Saturday congratulated Lai, but kept its distance at a sensitive time.

Asked by reporters for his position on Taiwan, President Joe Biden said: "We do not support independence."

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken saluted Lai on his victory in Saturday's pivotal vote and hailed the "robust democratic system and electoral process" of the self-ruled island.

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Blinken added that Washington is "committed to maintaining cross-Strait peace and stability, and the peaceful resolution of differences, free from coercion and pressure."

China, meanwhile, said that the vote "will not impede the inevitable trend of China's reunification."

Beijing's stance on "realizing national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock," Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua said, adding that "Taiwan is China's Taiwan."

Cover photo: REUTERS

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