TAIPEI – Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang picked a China-friendly leader Saturday as it struggles to regain public support after a crushing defeat in national elections.
Hung Hsiu-chu is the first female leader of the former ruling KMT, which lost the presidency to Tsai Ing-wen of the China-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in January, as well as control of parliament for the first time in the island’s history amid public unease over closer ties with China.
Despite being ousted as the KMT’s presidential candidate last October for her conservative views, Hung was elected Saturday to steer the embattled party.
Hung, whose stance leans toward pro-unification with China, vowed Saturday to revive the party, which is also plagued by inner rivalries.
“Of course I know the road ahead is very long, with all kinds of risks, difficulties and setbacks, but I definitely believe that I can fulfill my promise with everyone’s mutual support and unity,” she said after winning the contest.
Hung obtained 56 percent of the vote, beating three other candidates including acting Chairwoman Huang Min-hui and Taipei City Councilor Lee Hsin.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory note to Hung, in which he warned against any pro-independence movement as Tsai is set to take office in May.
“As current cross-strait relations face new circumstances, we wish to see the two parties bear in mind national interest and well-being of compatriots, continuing to adhere to the 1992 consensus and oppose Taiwan independence,” Xi said in the note, provided by the KMT.
The so-called 1992 consensus refers to a tacit agreement between the KMT and Beijing that acknowledges that there is “one China,” but each can give its own interpretation.
Improved relations with China had been a cornerstone of KMT’s policies under outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou over the past eight years, but many voters feel benefits have not trickled down.
The public — especially the younger generation — is also increasingly protective of Taiwan’s way of life and democracy, much to China’s chagrin.
Taiwan is self-ruling after splitting from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war, but Beijing still considers it part of its territory awaiting unification.
Beijing is wary of the DPP — which is historically pro-independence — and analysts are expecting cross-strait relations to cool.
Chinese leaders will be watching Tsai’s inauguration speech closely on May 20 to see how she addresses relations with Beijing.
Adding to Hung’s tall task as new KMT leader is answering demands for the party to surrender its assets, which critics say have been misappropriated or misused.
Former KMT Chairman Eric Chu, who was chosen to replace Hung in the presidential election, stepped down in January after the party’s loss.