William Lai emerges President of Taiwan

Taiwanese voters have chosen William Lai as their president in a historic election, cementing a path that is increasingly divergent from China.

The move has angered Beijing, which issued a statement shortly after the results insisting that “Taiwan is part of China”.

While Beijing has called for “peaceful reunification”, it has also not ruled out the use of force.

It had cast the Taiwan election as a choice between “war and peace”.

China has ramped up its military presence around the island in recent months, heightening fears of a possible conflict.

Beijing’s communist government reviles Mr Lai’s pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has governed Taiwan for eight years.

By winning an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term for his party, Mr Lai has broken new ground. In his first remarks after his opponents conceded, he signalled that this was an irreversible trajectory.

“The country will continue to walk on the right path forward. We will not turn around or look backwards,” he told the world’s media in a press conference.

addressing tens of thousands of ecstatic supporters on the streets of Taipei, Mr Lai characterised his win as a triumph of democracy.

“We’ve done it. We didn’t let external forces influence our election. That’s because we decided that only we can choose our president,” he said. In the lead-up to the polls, Taiwan had accused China of attempting to interfere with the process.

But Mr Lai also had a message for China.

He told reporters he favoured more exchanges and dialogue over obstructionism and conflict, and called for peace and stability with Beijing.

At the same time, he added, he would “maintain the cross-strait status quo” – neither seeking independence nor unification with China – and pledged to “safeguard Taiwan from threats from China”.

Beijing has labelled Mr Lai a “separatist” and “troublemaker” over remarks he made in the past supporting Taiwanese independence, which it sees as a red line.

In recent months however, he indicated he would not pursue formal independence.

A statement from the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council on Saturday, insisted that Taiwan’s elections “cannot stop the unstoppable trend of the eventual reunification of the motherland” and the DPP “cannot represent the mainstream public opinion” in Taiwan.

The US, Taiwan’s biggest ally, was swift to congratulate Mr Lai on his win. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also praised the island’s “robust democratic system and electoral process”.

In a statement, he said Washington is “committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability”.

President Joe Biden had earlier told reporters that the US “does not support independence” for Taiwan.

Outside the DPP’s headquarters in Taipei on Saturday, supporters celebrated the result.

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