Populist politician and pro-China mayor Han Kuo-yu has been selected as the opposition candidate for the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party to battle incumbent Tsai Ing-wen in next year's presidential elections.
Han, 62, easily beat billionaire Foxconn founder Terry Gou, whose company makes iPhones in China, in the KMT primary, setting the stage for an election in which relations with China will be a key focal point for both campaigns.
Han garnered 45 percent of votes in a telephone poll of the general public compared with Gou, who won just 28 percent.
Han's sudden rise to political prominence came during elections last year that were a major blow to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and which saw an unprecedented level of support for a candidate in favor of greater rapprochement with China in the former DPP stronghold of Kaohsiung.
"The three years that Tsai Ing-wen has been in power have been really disappointing," he said. "I call on everyone to calm down and ask yourselves what sort of politicians we want leading [Taiwan]."
But prominent pollster Tai Li-an said Han could face growing opposition as mayor of Kaohsiung, as his 2020 campaign activities could give rise to a conflict of interest if he remains in office.
"If this isn't handled well, there could be a situation where he is burning the candle at both ends, with both ends failing," he said.
DPP chairman Cho Jung-tai said his party wants to do battle with the best candidate the KMT can field.
"We have chosen our best possible candidate, and we would also want the KMT to come up with the best candidate for them," Cho said. "Only the best candidates from both the KMT and the DPP will do for the people of Taiwan."
Tsai has framed the 2020 presidential election as a fight for freedom and democracy in the wake of a saber-rattling speech by Chinese president Xi Jinping on Jan. 2, in which he said the democratic island must be "unified" with the People's Republic of China, which has never controlled it.
Hong Kong highlights dangers
Xi also refused to rule out the use of force to annex Taiwan, which is a sovereign country under the 1911 Republic of China government that fled to the island after the KMT lost a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.
Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up that sovereignty.
Her recent and vocal support for mass protests in Hong Kong against plans to extradite alleged criminal suspects to mainland China has underlined for many in Taiwan the dangers in Xi's proposal to rule Taiwan under the "one country, two systems" framework applied to former colonies.
Taiwan security agencies have also warned that Beijing is sponsoring a massive influencing campaign using media outlets in Taiwan owned or backed by the Chinese Communist Party that could undermine the country's democratic process.
Meanwhile, a former leader of the 2014 Sunflower Movement in which student protesters occupied Taiwan's parliament in protest over plans for ever-closer China ties has taken a top job in the DPP.
Lin Fei-fan will take up the post of deputy secretary-general of the DPP to help Tsai run her campaign on a platform of standing up to China, protecting Taiwan's democracy, and a bigger presence for the country on the world stage.
"Lin Fei-fan is joining the DPP to help Tsai Ing-wen get re-elected," Cho said. "There won't be a single day on which we can afford to waste time or rest: everything will have to be directed towards our goal, towards victory."
Lin said he had thought about the DPP's offer for six months before deciding to accept it.
"My decision has probably surprised many people, but if we put it in the context of Taiwan's current predicament, it's perhaps not so surprising after all," Lin said.
"Taiwan will be facing an unprecedented level of infiltration, [propaganda] offensive and attempts to divide us by China in 2020," he said.
United Front Work Department
He said "pro-Beijing forces" would be doing the work of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department, and using various channels of influence to affect the outcome of the election.
"They are trying to subsume Taiwan under the aegis of China," Lin warned.
Tsai has also warned that pro-Beijing forces are waging an "information war" to win voters over for their preferred candidates ahead of the 2020 poll, threatening the country's democracy.
Liao Ta-chi, director of Taiwan's National Sun Yat-sen University's political science institute, said Tsai is hoping to win over the country's youth with Lin's appointment.
"Tsai has always wanted to woo young people, although there'll be a limit to what [Lin] can do," Liao said. "It could some ... effect on her support, though it'll be offset [by other factors]."
"Sunflower" protesters -- many of them students -- occupied the Legislative Yuan on March 18, 2014, later moving into the government's administrative headquarters, the Executive Yuan in protest at plans by KMT president Ma Ying-jeou to sign a sweeping trade deal allowing ever-closer ties to China.
They were evicted on March 24, 2014 following clashes with more than 1,000 riot police who deployed water cannon and baton charges against them, despite their lack of resistance.
However, the KMT suffered in elections later that same year, while Tsai was elected amid a nationwide pro-DPP landslide in 2016.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.