China’s least preferred candidate declared victory in Taiwan’s presidential vote on Saturday after his rivals conceded, extending the dominance of a ruling party that Beijing has denounced as a separatist force and raising the specter of four more years of geopolitical tensions around the island democracy.
Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te was set to claim more than 40% of the vote in a rare and volatile three-way race, beating out second-place finisher Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, by roughly seven percentage points.
The result gives the ruling Democratic Progressive Party an unprecedented third straight term in the presidency.
“In the global election year of 2024, in this most anticipated first election, Taiwan has scored the first victory for democracy, ” Lai said in his victory speech, referring to the roughly four dozen national elections scheduled to be held around the globe this year.
U.S. officials are bracing for China to increase the pressure on Taiwan after Saturday’s election, officials and foreign-policy scholars said. China’s Communist government, which claims Taiwan as its territory despite never ruling here, has painted Lai and his running mate—Hsiao Bi-khim, until late last year Taipei’s de facto ambassador in Washington—as proponents of Taiwan independence, a red line for Beijing.
“China has opinions about me and Bi-khim, and that’s because both of us are steadfast in upholding Taiwan’s sovereignty,” Lai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month. He portrayed himself as a steadfast defender of peace.
On Friday, a spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry said the Chinese military would “take all necessary measures to resolutely crush any form of secessionist designs for ‘Taiwan independence.’”
The Biden administration has urged Beijing not to raise the heat on Taiwan, concerned that an aggressive response could unravel a recent steadying of U.S.-China ties. The White House has also sought to reassure Chinese officials of their own carefulness in dealing with the island.