Opinion: Taiwan′s courageous president | Opinion | DW | 21.01.2020
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Opinion

Opinion: Taiwan's courageous president

Taiwan's liberal president, Tsai Ing-wen, has been re-elected, and the island has once again confirmed its democratic character and difference from mainland China. Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a thorn in Taiwan's side, in terms of independence. He propagates the view that his country was not made for a Western-style democracy, but rather, based on its long history, is best suited to a communist system, with Chinese characteristics.

The 23 million Han Chinese on the island of Taiwan, who govern themselves democratically, don't fit into this picture. Xi has already threatened several times to take Taiwan by force, if necessary.

Read more: Will Tsai Ing-wen's landslide victory force Beijing to rethink its approach to Taiwan?

One country, two systems

Tsai won the recent election because she has courageously, and repeatedly, rejected these threats from Xi. It was in her favor that the Taiwanese have been viewing developments in Hong Kong with concern since last summer.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Alexander Görlach (Harvard University/D. Elmes)

Alexander Görlach is a guest columnist for The New York Times, Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung and business magazine Wirtschaftswoche

There, the Communist Party's promise of "One country, two systems," which was given to the Hong Kong people when the colony was returned to China in 1997, has been broken several times. Under this catchy formula, a legally binding agreement was made that Hong Kong would retain its autonomy, by which I mean its democracy and independent judiciary, until the year 2047.

"One country, two systems" was originally invented by former leader Deng Xiaoping as a conciliatory formula for Taiwan: After the Maoists came to power, the defeated republican forces withdrew to Taiwan in 1949 with the aim of eventually recapturing the mainland. As is well known, nothing came of it.

Read more: Can Taiwan become less isolated?

New charm offensive needed from China

"One country, two systems" is now off the table in both Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the Chinese leadership will have to come up with something new to win over the Chinese in these independent regions.

Tsai has, meanwhile, granted asylum to political refugees from Hong Kong. In her resolute fight for the island's liberal democracy, she was able to leave her opponent, the candidate of the pro-China Kuomintang Party, Han Kuo-yu, far behind. The People's Republic interfered in the election campaign in his favor and tried to influence the decision online.

For the moment, the fact remains that wherever people have the choice between his model and liberal democracy, they choose democracy. Elections will be held in Hong Kong in September. Already last autumn, Beijing's candidates suffered a bitter defeat in local elections. It's to be expected that Xi will not give in without a fight, neither in Hong Kong nor in Taiwan. 2020 may be the year of decisions.

Alexander Görlach is a senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a senior research associate at the Cambridge Institute on Religion & International Studies. He has also held a number of scholarly and advisory positions at Harvard University. He holds doctorate degrees in comparative religion and linguistics and is a guest columnist for several publications, including The New York Times, Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung and business magazine Wirtschaftswoche.

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