Gordon Chang discusses Taiwan election
Gatestone Institute Senior Fellow and China expert Gordon Chang discusses with Fox News Digital the ramifications of the Taiwan election on U.S. and China relations.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate William Lai, also known by his Chinese name of Ching-te, has emerged victorious after a tightly contested presidential election as the island’s next leader, Fox News Digital confirms.
“The results are in, and Taiwan’s voters stood up to China and all its war talk of recent weeks,” Gordon Chang, Gatestone Institute Senior Fellow and China expert, told Fox News Digital. “Free people, living just a hundred miles from the menacing Chinese state, refused to be intimidated.”
Lai, defeated his rival, New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih of the Koumintang (KMT) party, by just over 7% of the vote after Hou conceded at 8 p.m. local time. Taiwan saw around 69% of voters turnout for the election this year – less than the impressive 75% seen in the 2020 election, which saw 13.6 million people turn out to vote, but more than the 66% that turned out for the 2016 election, according to the Taipei Times.
The victory marks DPP’s third successive win over KMT for the first time since Taiwan began democratic elections over 30 years ago – the first time a party has done so, with parties retaining control for no more than 8 years before switching places as voter sentiment swayed between the two major parties.
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“The voters broke a pattern that has held since the first democratic elections in Taiwan in 1996,” Chang said. “The Democratic Progressive Party, the pro-Taiwan party, and the pro-China Kuomintang Party, have traded the presidency every eight years.”
“Beijing insists the people of Taiwan are “Chinese.” By voting for Lai, they have now loudly declared they are Taiwanese.”
DPP supporters in Kaohsiung celebrate as their candidate in the presidential election takes a strong lead and the party wins the legislative race in the city over its opponents. (Eryk Michael Smith)
Fox News Digital spoke to one woman in the city of Kaohsiung who flew from California to vote in the election. The woman said she voted for Lai for his policy of making the country independent was “good for the people.” She also dismissed the main opposition candidate from the KMT for being too close to China, saying it would be “dangerous” for the country.
Lai held a slender lead going into the final weeks of the election: The last polling, released more than 10 days before the vote, had him averaging five points ahead of Hou, with some polls showing them separated by just one point.
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Early results however saw Lai take a comfortable lead of around 43.27% compared to Hou’s 34.01% after just about 10% of polling places had reported. The lead narrowed slightly as results continued to trickle in, but not by enough for KMT to have a realistic chance at victory.
In a press conference following his victory, Lai proclaimed, “As one of the first and most highly anticipated elections of 2024, Taiwan has achieved a victory for the community of democracies,” He continued, “We see today’s results as having three main points of significance: First, we are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy. The Republic of China, Taiwan, will continue to walk side by side with democracies all around the world.”
Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate William Lai, votes in southern Taiwan’s Tainan city on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Lai’s election victory means the DPP maintains the presidency. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
“Second, through our actions, the Taiwanese people have successfully resisted efforts from external forces to influence this election,” Lai continued. “We trust that only the people of Taiwan have the right to choose their own president. Third, in between three groups of candidates, we received the most support, meaning the country will continue to walk on the right path forward.”
Lai thanked outgoing president Tsai Ing-wen for her work over the past eight years and he thanked his rivals for their “spirit of democracy” after revealing he had received their concession calls. He claimed he would “look forward to working together in unity for the future of our country.”
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Hou, joined by major KMT party figures, spoke to his supporters after 87% of the vote had been counted and it became clear that the path to victory had closed. Hou congratulated Lai and declared that all must work together for the good of Taiwan as he thanked voters for their support. Third-party TPP candidate, former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, conceded shortly after Hou did.
Beijing did not indicate which candidate in the field it supported, but analysts identified Hou as the most likely candidate, with his party historically more friendly to the mainland. Chinese officials also went to great lengths to frame the vote as a choice between “war and peace,” with Lai pitched as a separationist who would lead Taiwan to conflict.
In Kaohsiung voters watch the results come in on large screens in Taiwan’s presidential election. (Eryk Michael Smith)
DPP’s lead in the most recent election proved the tightest win since KMT last took victory in 2012’s presidential election, winning that contest by around just 6 points. The two successive elections saw DPP win back and retain control of the government with double-digit support.
Third-party TPP’s roughly 3.3 million votes is the largest number a third-party candidate has won since the 2000 presidential election.
In another historic first, DPP’s vice-presidential candidate, former Taiwanese Representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim, is the first mixed-race candidate to hold the position. Hsiao’s mother is American.
Heino Klinck, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia and military attaché to China, previously told Fox News Digital that the election would likely play out fairly straightforwardly.
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Instead, Klinck warned that China would more likely retaliate during the months leading up to Lai’s inauguration with military drills and surveillance pressure to try and influence Lai’s posturing ahead of his tone-setting inaugural speech.
“Now, the world should ask itself this: Why, after this election, should the rest of us be afraid of that aggressor, Xi Jinping?” Chang argued. “It is now time for the United States to support free people who insist on governing themselves.”
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.