Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim arrive for a press conference following their victory in the presidential elections on January 13, 2024.

Taiwanese voters reject China and give governing party a third presidential term in 2024

People vote at a polling station in southern Taiwan's Tainan city [Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]
People vote at a polling station in southern Taiwan’s Tainan city [Ng Han Guan/AP Photo]
On Saturday, voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly supported Lai Ching-te, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), defying Chinese pressure to reject him and reaffirming China’s commitment to pursuing “reunification”.

In an unprecedented move for Taiwan’s present electoral system, Lai’s party—which supports Taiwan’s independent identity and opposes China’s territorial claims—was running for a third consecutive four-year term.

But after eight years in office, the public’s annoyance about homegrown problems such as rising housing costs and stagnate salaries led to the DPP’s loss of majority in parliament, which made it more difficult for Lai to enact laws.

In Taiwan’s first-past-the-post election system, Lai received only 40% of the vote, in contrast to current President Tsai Ing-wen, who was re-elected with a landslide four years earlier, receiving over 50% of the vote.

Lai praised his triumph anyway.

“We’ve authored a fresh chapter in Taiwan’s democratic past,” Lai, who has consistently led the polls, declared to reporters following the defeat of both of his rivals.

In spite of his stated intention to “protect Taiwan from threats and intimidation from China,” Lai pledged to uphold the current state of affairs in relations across the Taiwan Strait.

Simultaneously, he underscored the necessity of equal cooperation and conversation with Beijing in order to “replace confrontation,” albeit without providing any details.

China criticized Lai as a dangerous separatist in the run-up to the election, pointing out the “extreme harm of the DPP’s ‘Taiwan independence’ line” and urging the people of Taiwan to make the correct decision. They have also consistently rejected Lai’s requests for negotiations.

In its reaction to Lai’s election, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office adopted a more conciliatory stance, declining to specifically mention him but stating that the DPP “cannot represent the mainstream public opinion” on Taiwan as a result of the results.

“Our stance on resolving the Taiwan question and realising national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock,” added the statement.

It did, however, add that China will cooperate and exchange with Taiwan’s “relevant political parties, groups, and people” in order to “advance the cause of national reunification as well as the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

Beijing and Washington were experiencing increasing geopolitical tensions at the time of Taiwan’s election.

It seems improbable that the arms race across the Taiwan Strait and the military pressure exerted by China on the island that Beijing regards as its “sacred” territory will end.

China has exhibited unprecedented military activity in the Taiwan Strait since the last election in 2020, including hosting two rounds of significant war simulations close to the island.

China will collaborate with “relevant political parties, groups, and people,” it continued, but only peace will be beneficial to both parties.

Amidst a sea of applauding supporters, there were joyful scenes outside Lai’s campaign headquarters.

“The DPP is the only party that can truly protect Taiwan,” exclaimed 28-year-old tattoo artist Cony Lu, tearing up with joy. “So many individuals are prepared to unite in order to protect Taiwan’s