China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has tied his country’s great power status to a singular promise: unifying the motherland with Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist Party sees as sacred, lost territory. A few weeks ago, Mr. Xi called this a “historical inevitability.”
But Taiwan’s election on Saturday, handing the presidency to a party that promotes the island’s separate identity for the third time in a row, confirmed that this boisterous democracy has moved even further away from China and its dream of unification.
After a campaign of festival-like rallies, where huge crowds shouted, danced and waved matching flags, Taiwan’s voters ignored China’s warnings that a vote for the Democratic Progressive Party was a vote for war. They made that choice anyway.
Lai Ching-te, a former doctor and the current vice president, who Beijing sees as a staunch separatist, will be Taiwan’s next leader. It’s an act of self-governed defiance that proved what many already knew: Beijing’s arm-twisting of Taiwan — economically and with military harassment at sea and in the air — has only strengthened the island’s desire to protect its de facto independence and move beyond China’s giant shadow.
“The more hard-line, tougher approach hasn’t worked,” said Susan Shirk, a research professor at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of “Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise.” “That’s the reality of Taiwanese politics.”
That evolution, cultural and political, comes with risks. Mr. Lai’s victory forces Mr. Xi to face a lack of progress. And while China’s full response will play out over months or years, the dynamic of brinkmanship and stress shows no sign of fading, and is likely to intensify.
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