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Taiwan's polls close in election that could test China ties

Vote counting is underway after polls closed in Taiwan's elections. The island is expected to elect its first female president and partially reverse a rapprochement with China.

Academic-turned-politician Tsai Ing-wen (pictured) is

expected to win the election,

taking the country's top position from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), which after eight years in power has voters uneasy over stagnant economic growth and closer ties with mainland China.

Since coming to power in 2008, current KMT president Ma Ying-jeou has sought to improve ties with China, signing multiple trade and transport agreements.

The diplomatic rapprochement culminated in an historic meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November. Yet while the KMT and its presidential candidate Eric Chu have lauded their accomplishments, voters appear to feel differently.

The closer ties have Taiwanese concerned economic dependence has tied the island closer to China

without it receiving many of the anticipated benefits.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party, a traditionally pro-independence party, have refused to recognize the "one China" policy. Taiwan has been self-ruling since a split with the Chinese mainland in 1949.

However, the "one China" concept remains ambiguous enough to accommodate different interpretations.

Support for the DPP and its 59-year-old leader has increased dramatically since 2014, which saw hundreds of student-led demonstrators occupy parliament for more than three weeks, in protest against trade pacts negotiated with China.

However, Beijing still holds many economic, diplomatic and political levers to exert influence and pressure on Tsai if she veers too far from its red lines. Analysts do not expect a crisis to develop, only that relations could just become less predictable.

While fears over Taiwan's economic dependency on China continue to simmer, voters were also focused the bread and butter issues of low salaries and high housing prices, as well as the environment and food safety.

Parliamentary elections were also held on Saturday, with the KMT facing the risk of losing its parliamentary majority.

Pop singer controversy

However, Saturday's news was dominated by a 16-year-old Taiwanese singer in a Korean pop group, who was forced to apologize after provoking online Chinese criticism for waving Taiwan's flag in a recent broadcast.

Chou Tzu-yu, a member of the South Korean all-girl band TWICE, was reportedly forced into apologizing for wearing a Taiwanese flag on a broadcast, angering Chinese viewers.

The apology churned up an uproar among all presidential candidates and the public, who defended the teenager.

Watch video 03:06

Young voters may sway Taiwan election

cw/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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