The Taiwanese people have overwhelmingly reelected Tsai Ing-wen as their president. In recent days, Tsai garnered over eight million votes, the biggest electoral landslide since Taiwan’s first presidential election in 1996.
During her acceptance speech, President Tsai Ing-wen was clear about her stance on democracy and freedom:
Regardless of how you voted, by taking part in this election you have put democratic values into practice. With each presidential election, Taiwan is showing the world how much we cherish our free, democratic way of life, and how much we cherish our nation: the Republic of China
The results of this election carry an added significance, because they have shown that when our sovereignty and democracy are threatened, the Taiwanese people will shout our determination even more loudly back.
The results of the election, along with the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, send a very clear message not only to China but also to the rest of the world. Taiwanese and Hong Kongers want freedom and democracy.
Since June 2019, Hong Kongers have been protesting with no signs of slowing down. The protest began in opposition to a contentious bill that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to China. The bill was removed from consideration by the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, but the protests haven’t ceased. Hong Kongers are demanding greater levels of democracy. Twenty-five percent of Hong Kong people have participated in a recent protest.
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), is an island off the coast of China and is democratically governed. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) insists that Taiwan must eventually rejoin mainland China and views Taiwan as a province. President Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian leader, has warned that China would use force if necessary to prevent Taiwan from taking steps to become independent.
One of the biggest contrasts of Taiwan and Hong Kong to China is their ability to enjoy a level of religious freedom and human rights that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t allow for its citizens. This distinction is vitally important because many times democracy and basic human rights go hand-in-hand. Taiwan has no restrictions on religion, while in China churches are required to register and are under CCP’s watchful eye. Sam Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has traveled to Taiwan and met with President Tsai Ing-wen. Together they urged for more religious freedom in Asia.
On December 18, 2019, the Department of State re-designated a handful of countries as countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” China was on the list of re-designated countries for its abuses of human rights and religious freedom. In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has increased the pressure and persecution of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners. Most notably, the CCP has begun placing approximately one million Uighur Muslims into internment camps.
Tsai’s popularity had been as low as 24 percent. The people of Taiwan saw how China responded to the protests in Hong Kong and correctly discerned that what was happening in Hong Kong could happen to them. Tsai’s rival was seen by the Taiwanese as being too friendly with Beijing. The voters chose Tsai because they viewed her as someone who would stand up for democracy. Leung Man-to, a political science professor at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, has stated that “this election is proof that Xi Jinping’s strategy of keeping Hong Kong and Taiwan under control is a total failure.”
Taiwanese and Hong Kongers are choosing a different kind of governing system, and leaders who protect them instead of imprisoning anyone who dares to disagree. The reelection of President Tsai Ing-wen matters because the people’s voices were heard, and they signaled to mainland China and the rest of the world that they deeply value and cherish their freedom, democracy, human rights, and religious freedom.