, TAIPEI, Jan 17 – As new president Tsai Ing-wen pledges a stronger Taiwan that is proud of its identity, tensions with China are already simmering as Beijing watches and waits.
Tsai ousted the ruling Kuomintang to take the presidency in a landslide Saturday as voters turned their backs on closer ties with China.
The Beijing-friendly KMT also lost control of parliament for the first time.
Its disastrous defeat tapped into frustration and fear that the island’s sovereignty is being eroded by China after an eight-year rapprochement under outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou.
“It is a political earthquake,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
“I don’t think Beijing will react quickly, but it means more trouble.
“It would be surprising if (China’s President) Xi, who has been assertive with the whole world, is not assertive with Taiwan,” said Cabestan, adding China’s strategy would depend on the actions of Tsai and Taiwan’s main ally the United States.
Beijing has already responded to the election rout by warning that it would resolutely oppose any bid by Taiwan to seek independence.
Taiwan is a self-ruling democracy since splitting with China in 1949 after a civil war, but has never formally declared independence, and Beijing sees it as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Tsai has toned down her Democratic Progressive Party’s traditionally pro-independence message – the vast majority of voters want peace with China and she has promised to maintain the “status quo”.
That message has also calmed nerves in the US, which does not want to see tensions flare.
But while Tsai reiterated her commitment to peaceful ties Saturday, she made it clear Taiwan would not be cowed.
She told cheering crowds they should never apologise for their identity and warned that Chinese “suppression” would damage ties.
“Tsai was saying that she plans to promote stability in cross-strait relations but only if Beijing refrains from coercive threats or efforts to tighten the noose on Taiwan diplomatically,” said John Ciorciari, political science professor at the University of Michigan.