Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is set to seek a second term after she successfully saw off a primary challenge on Thursday from within her own party to stand as their candidate.
The island goes to the polls in January to elect a new president, in a contest set to be dominated by relations with China.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — which Beijing loathes — announced that Tsai had comfortably beaten former premier William Lai in a primary decided by opinion polls.
“My most important responsibility now is to unite all forces… to protect Taiwan’s democracy, to defend the fruits of reforms and to solidify our national sovereignty,” Tsai told reporters.
Tsai was elected in 2016 as the island’s first female leader, defeating the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party which oversaw an unprecedented thaw in cross-strait ties but began to unnerve many voters with its perceived cosiness to the mainland.
Beijing promptly cut communication with her government, ramped up military drills and poached several of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies because Tsai refuses to acknowledge that the self-ruled island is part of “one China”.
Tsai hails from the more moderate wing of her party. Her challenger Lai is an open supporter of Taiwanese independence, something that Beijing has always maintained is a red-line.
Taiwan has been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949 but China still views it as its territory and has vowed to take the island, by force if necessary.
The KMT has yet to announce their candidate but it is likely to be either Taiwan’s richest man Terry Gou — the owner of electronics giant Foxconn — or Han Kuo-yu, a populist mayor and party outsider who has had a meteoric rise in recent months.
Both favour much warmer ties with China, a stance that often appeals to older conservative voters but rattles many younger people who have increasingly embraced a distinctly Taiwanese identity and mistrust the authoritarian mainland.
“Both potential KMT candidates are seen as China-friendly. It could be a fight between either of them and the DPP’s candidate who vows to defend sovereignty. And it remains to be seen which side the public will support,” Wang Yeh-lih, a political analyst at National Taiwan University, told AFP.
Tsai has described the 2020 presidential election as a “fight for freedom and democracy”, setting herself up as someone who can defend the island from an increasingly assertive Beijing.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday she referenced events in Hong Kong, where protesters have battled police this week as anger exploded over plans to allow extraditions to the mainland.
“Look at Hong Kong and think about Taiwan, every single Taiwanese has to join hands to fight against those people who want to destroy our national sovereignty or sacrifice freedom and democracy for temporary benefits,” she said