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First Female President, Controversial Island Visit Cap Historic Month In Taiwan

Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen
CSIS | Center for Strategic & International Studies
Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen

Earlier this month Taiwan elected its first female president in a historic general election that also saw a party other than the Kuomintang, or KMT, take over for only the second time since the Chinese Nationalists were driven from the mainland to the island by the Chinese Communists following the 1949 civil war.

President-elect Tsai Ing-wen leads the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP. Historically, they've been a pro-Independence party, seeking to establish Taiwan as a truly unique nation rather than a state-in-exile.

Taiwanese voters were largely concerned the country's economy was threatened by China, and were against Beijing's demands for political unification. The KMT's candidate, Eric Chu, was also a last-minute substitute due to perceptions the Nationalist's original candidate was alienating voters, according to The Associated Press:

Tsai said her victory was a further show of Taiwan's ingrained democracy and its people wish for a government "steadfast in protecting this nation's sovereignty." She too pledged to maintain the status quo with China. She said both sides have a responsibility to find a mutually acceptable means of interacting, while adding that Taiwan's international space must be respected. She said she would correct past policy mistakes, but warned that "the challenges that Taiwan faces will not disappear in one day." Chu resigned from his party's leadership to take responsibility for the massive loss. In the final tally, Tsai won more than 56 percent of votes, while Chu had 31 percent and a third-party candidate trailing in the distance. Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou is constitutionally barred from another term.

"It was a landslide. But it shouldn't have been a surprise because we've seen protest movements for the last year and a half, particularly among the young, "University of Oklahoma College of International Studies assistant dean Rebecca Cruise told KGOU's World Views. "They were the ones that were really pushing this movement. This is not necessarily pleasing to China, but they are advocating now for more democratic reforms."

The outgoing leader, Ma Ying-jeou, was constitutionally barred from seeking another term. He was widely unpopular, but did have favorable relations with China. But on Thursday, Ma visited disputed islands claimed by both Taiwan and China in an effort to assert Taiwan's sovereignty, and build his own legacy, the AP writes:

Defying rare criticism from the U.S., Ma flew to the island of Taiping in the South China Sea and sought to cast Taiwan as a peaceful, humanitarian player in a region where China's robust assertions of its territorial claims are sharpening disputes with its neighbors. Ma cited infrastructure developments, including a 10-bed hospital and a lighthouse, saying they reinforced Taiwan's claim of sovereignty and granted it rights over the surrounding waters. "All this evidence fully demonstrates that Taiping Island is able to sustain human habitation and an economic life of its own. Taiping Island is categorically not a rock, but an island," Ma said.

"He did invite the new president, and she probably smartly said no. She wanted to continue to distance herself from the KMT," Cruise said. "The United States was not pleased about Ma's visit. China was not particularly pleased, but don't see this as a huge issue either."

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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