On Saturday, the citizens of Taiwan enthusiastically exercised their democratic rights, voting for their president, vice president and national legislators. Tsai Ing-wen was reelected as president for the next four years. The Democratic Progressive Party remains the majority party in the parliament. Taiwan has been choosing its national leaders through free and direct elections since 1996.
Many countries around the world will soon send congratulations to the island republic for its successful elections. Taiwan’s giant neighbor, China, is on the outside looking in. This is not only because Beijing claims that Taiwan is a part of China, having never recognized the legitimacy of elections on the island. More importantly, Taiwan demonstrates that a democratic way of life can be achieved in a Chinese-speaking society.
Taiwan’s vibrant and inspiring democracy is, however, perceived by Beijing as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s legitimacy. Taiwan’s elections are profoundly significant, particularly in the light of Beijing’s abolition of its presidential term limit in May 2018 and the courageous democracy movement in Hong Kong recently.
Freedom House’s annual report in 2019 gave Taiwan high marks as one of the freest countries in the world — at a time when there has been an alarming global decline in political rights and civil liberties over the past decade or so. The island republic’s legalization of same-sex marriage, the first in Asia, was chosen by The Post as one of 19 good things that happened in 2019. It proves that human rights and freedom of speech are not just «Western” values. Taiwan is a vital partner, a democratic success story and a force for good in the world, as noted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Taiwan’s vibrant democratic practices are a stark contrast to Beijing’s ruthless one-party rule and oppression. This explains why the CCP has been intensifying its efforts to meddle in Taiwan’s political process through diplomatic suppression, disinformation, infiltration and economic coercion.
Taiwan’s democratic achievement puts a different kind of pressure on China. It is an obvious challenge to the CCP leadership but a beacon of hope for the oppressed people in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as well as millions of underground Christians under Beijing’s autocratic control.
As history has proved, democracy and authoritarianism cannot compromise and coexist. If we wish to safeguard our beliefs and universally shared values, those of us living in democratic societies have no other option than to keep up the fight. China’s claim of “one country, two systems” will never be acceptable to freedom-loving people. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy forces won a landslide victory in district elections last November. Taiwanese voters’ decisive mandate for the defense of sovereignty on Saturday is another testament for the people’s free will and determination. While cheering for the victory of democracy, people around the world should beware of China’s further sabotage of democratic systems and its aggression in reshaping the world order in its favor.
Taiwan serves as a shining model for the political evolution of the Indo-Pacific region. Like-minded countries, including the United States, should not shy away from expressing their support for Taiwan’s flourishing democracy. One concrete sign of American resolve would be the attendance of a Cabinet-level senior official at the inauguration of Taiwan’s freely elected leaders later this year. An equally important step would be to boost strategic and economic cooperation through the early negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement. A strong and enduring U.S.-Taiwan partnership will be a concrete assurance of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Stanley Kao is the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.