Taiwan's President to Seek Re-election to Secure Island's Future

tsai.jpg Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Taipei, Jan. 2, 2019.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has said she plans to seek re-election in 2020 as a way of protecting the democratic island and showing the world that it can stand alone in the face of interference from China.

"As I told @MattRiversCNN this morning, I’m confident about my re-election in 2020," Tsai said via her Twitter account. "Protecting #Taiwan's freedom & democracy whilst building a brighter future for my 23 million fellow citizens is a goal worth fighting for."

Tsai had earlier told CNN that it was "natural" for a sitting president to want to do more for their country.

"It's quite natural for a president to seek another four years to complete ... his or her agenda," she said, in a clip from the interview also shared to her Twitter account.

"It's ... another challenge," Tsai said. "At least I am confident. [It is] something I have been prepared for."

Tsai told reporters in Taipei on Wednesday that her agenda is to ensure that future generations of Taiwanese will have the freedom to choose their own future.

She said she gave the interview to make it clear that Taiwan wants to exist on its own and safeguard its democracy, economic prosperity and security, rather than accepting China's insistence on "unification."

"We are a democratic country and our direction is very clear," she said. "We want freedom, democracy, security and prosperity. Taiwan's future should be decided by ourselves."

Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered bruising losses in local elections last November, but her defiant response to a Jan. 2 speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping boosted her personal ratings.

However, more recent opinion polls showed she would be the least popular among a slate of potential candidates including Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je and the KMT mayor of Kaohsiung Han Kuo-yu.

In a Jan. 2 "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Xi swapped the Chinese Communist Party's previous insistence on the idea that Taiwan is part of a divided "One China" for a new theme: "unification," which he said was a "historical and unavoidable duty" for Beijing.

Chinese media issue threats

But he made no reference to public opinion among the 23 million inhabitants of Taiwan, which his party has never ruled, and said he wouldn't renounce the use of military force to take the island.

Beijing has never accepted the status of Taiwan as a sovereign power, although the 1911 Republic of China government established by the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists.

Officially, Taiwan is still known as the Republic of China, which controls the four islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Beijing has refused diplomatic ties with any country that also recognizes the Republic of China, and actively encourages Taiwan's partners to switch recognition.

Last week, scholars and experts at the Asia Society called for a 'course correction' in U.S.-China policy, with more initiatives to help Taiwan internationally and shore up its defenses.

The society's task force on U.S.-China policy said regional security, human rights and "China's influence-seeking and interference abroad" were key issues in the bilateral relationship, calling on the administration of President Donald Trump to take steps to support Taiwan.

Chinese state-backed media reacted with threats on Wednesday following Tsai's CNN interview.

"The real fear is that Tsai's reelection will further agitate the fragile situation and lead to a new cross Straits crisis," the Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic tabloid which is linked to Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, said in an opinion article.

"Of Tsai and anyone else violate China's Anti-Secession Law, we must crack down on them," the paper said. "Tsai must pay if she relies on Taiwan independence forces to win the election."

Political analysts said last November that China had mobilized considerable resources to influence the election results, via a complex network of money and political influence.

Strategic analyst and political commentator Wang Li said Beijing had exerted influence through campaign funding via front companies, even to the point of fielding its own, puppet candidates.

The Global Times said China should "gradually regulate" Taiwan's elections.

"As the strength of the Chinese mainland rises year by year, helpful resources are increasing," it said. "We must dare to use and be skilled at using them."

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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