Much to the dismay of Mainland China’s ruling party, Taiwanese citizens voted on Jan. 11 to re-elect Tsai Ing-wen as president for a second term. Tsai, a hardliner against reunification with China, brings uncertainty to the already strained U.S.-China relations. However, her win reaffirms Taiwan’s commitment to democracy and progress, as she is the only candidate pushing for deeper ties with the U.S.
When strongman Xi Jinping gained control of Mainland China in 2013, many believed he would lead China down the road to democracy, similar to what Mikhail Gorbachev did to the Soviet Union. Instead, he changed China’s constitution to give him an unlimited term. China’s Communist party has only tightened its grip over its local governments and people in a deeply troubling trend since then.
Compromising with such a demanding, authoritarian administration will lead to nowhere for Taiwan. Hard lining toward independence is the only way that it can continue being a liberal beacon of democracy as China continues its human rights abuses toward Uyghurs, an ethnic group, and denies Hong Kong citizens their rights to freedom of speech and democracy.
China claims that it would grant Taiwan a certain degree of autonomy if it integrated into the Communist government. However, after seeing Hong Kong’s violent attempts to protect its supposed “two systems, one country” rights, Taiwan won’t easily be swayed into a similar approach.
Although Tsai’s first term was troubled by threats of Chinese invasion, economic sanctions and diplomatic quarantine, it’s clear that Taiwanese voters were more concerned with their independence.
Taiwan’s alliance with the U.S. remains somewhat shaky, but Tsai is the best candidate to strengthen it; in 2016 she phoned President Trump to congratulate him on his win, marking the first call between American and Taiwanese leaders since 1979. Since her re-election, Tsai has scheduled new free trade deal talks with the U.S. and proposed a new extradition treaty that would prevent wanted Taiwanese criminals from fleeing to the U.S.
Perhaps even more controversial is Tsai’s request that a U.S. official be present at her inauguration. Her ambitious U.S.-centric agenda shows her willingness to take initiative in deepening U.S.-Taiwan ties: the opposite of what Beijing wants. Such an initiative is necessary for an independent Taiwan. It currently sets an example for a liberal, democratic Chinese nation, and remains the only free place in the Chinese-speaking world.
Tsai is still a controversial figure and many fear her actions will lead to China invading Taiwan by force. But in times like these where Taiwan’s future looks uncertain, her vision and resolve are what the island needs most.