Asia Pacific / Politics

Taiwan leader says country will not accept any deal that destroys democracy

Reuters, Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Taiwan will not accept any deal that destroys its sovereignty and democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said Wednesday after the island’s opposition Kuomintang said it could sign a peace deal with China if it wins a presidential election next year.

Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November. The Taiwan president’s comments came after she said Tuesday she will run for re-election as the island’s leader in 2020, despite her sagging popularity.

“I’m confident about my re-election in 2020. Protecting #Taiwan’s freedom & democracy whilst building a brighter future for my 23 million fellow citizens is a goal worth fighting for,” she said in a Twitter post.

Tsai, who took office in May 2016, was forced to step down as chief of the DPP after the November elections.

The island nation’s first female leader, Tsai had earlier told CNN that she wanted to “complete” her vision for Taiwan in an interview on board her presidential jet.

“It’s natural that any sitting president wants to do more for the country and wants to finish things on his or her agenda. And it’s quite natural for a president seeking another four years to complete his agenda or her agenda,” she said in the interview that aired Tuesday.

Tsai, 62, won a landslide victory two years ago to defeat the ruling Kuomintang, which oversaw an unprecedented thaw in cross-strait ties but began to unnerve many voters with its perceived cosiness to the mainland.

The result rattled Beijing because Tsai has refused to acknowledge that the self-ruled island is part of “One China.”

She reached out to the mainland’s leadership after her election to seek talks but was rebuffed. Instead, Beijing cut communication with her administration, stepped up military drills and poached several of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies.

Her popularity at home has waned considerably, primarily a backlash to domestic policies such as much needed public-sector pension reforms and a push for gay marriage rights that incensed and galvanized conservatives.

Her ratings fell as low as 15 percent after she stepped down as head of the DPP following a series of major defeats in the November local elections.

Tsai said she is “confident” about her reelection prospects, despite calls from some senior DPP members asking her not to stand again in early 2020.

“This is something I have prepared for,” she told CNN.

“It’s again another challenge. Being president, you’re not short of challenges. At good times you have challenges of one sort, and in bad times you have challenges of another sort.”

Tsai blamed the election setback on what she called a “difficult reform agenda” pushed by her government, rather than the frosty cross-strait relations.

“You get attacks, you get criticism, the people don’t feel the result of the reform so much when you’ve just started,” she said.

The embattled leader’s popularity has rebounded somewhat after a bellicose New Year’s speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, describing Taiwan’s unification with the mainland as “inevitable.”

Tsai delivered her own riposte, saying Taiwan would never relinquish its hard won democratic freedoms, a response that led to a boost in her ratings.

Her main challengers will be from the opposition Kuomintang, with several of its heavyweights already indicating their interest in running, including former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu, who lost to Tsai in 2016.