Opinion: A slap in the face for Beijing | Opinion | DW | 12.01.2020
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Opinion: A slap in the face for Beijing

The decisive victory of China-critical President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan's presidential elections is a loud slap in the face for Beijing. Nevertheless, nothing will change in Beijing's policy towards Taiwan.

Right up to the end, there was some lingering doubt as to whether Taiwan would dodge a "Trump moment." Observers watched on to see whether the populist rival candidate of the largest opposition party could pull off a win — despite the large gap in the polls in the months ahead of the elections.

But the upset never happened. The ruling president — boosted by the mobilization of young voters in the days leading up to the polls — won by an overwhelming majority

HA Asien | Philipp Bilsky Kommentarbild App (DW/P. Böll)

DW's Philpp Bilsky

With the election results, Taiwanese voters have sent a clear message that they do not want to be intimidated by pressure. The most important issue in the election campaign was the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be part of its territory, had increased the pressure on Taiwan again this year.

China's layered pressure

Early last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping had again emphasized that military force would not be ruled out in the event of reunification. The "Taiwan question," to Beijing, could not be passed on from generation to generation.

Beijing increased military pressure in the Taiwan Strait. Mainland tourists were forbidden to travel to Taiwan. And Beijing also poached two of Taiwan's few remaining allies, reducing the number of countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically to 15.

But this pressure achieved the opposite of what Beijing had hoped for. President Tsai Ing-wen successfully presented Taiwan to her voters as a democratic counter-model to autocratic China. The developments in Hong Kong also played an important role. During the election campaign, Tsai repeatedly stressed that Taiwan must not become tomorrow's Hong Kong — and that the Chinese proposal of "one country, two systems" had failed.

Beijing's approach unlikely to change

Although Beijing's policy of exerting pressure on Taiwanese voters has obviously failed, the approach towards Taiwan is unlikely to change in the near future. A direct military intervention by mainland China is unlikely, especially since it is completely unclear how the United States would act in this case.

After her election victory, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen advocated the principles of peace, parity, democracy and dialogue as the basis for relations between Taiwan and mainland China. But the idea of China's Xi agreeing to these principles can be ruled out.

A willingness to engage in dialogue with the current Taiwanese government, and thus a radical change of course in the Taiwanese question, would hardly be justifiable in domestic politics — especially in times when it is unclear how secure Xi's position is.

Instead, Beijing is likely to continue its recent policy of upholding its military threat, silence vis-à-vis the current Taiwanese government, and isolating Taipei even further on the international stage. Taiwan will remain a potential hot spot of cross-Strait conflict in the future.

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