In Hong Kong two years later, Jiang oversaw the implementation of the model he said would achieve just that, “the great concept of ‘one country, two systems'” — a process whereby the city would continue to maintain its distinct political and legal systems, while becoming part of a unified China.
“By dialing down the confrontational approach she has taken toward Beijing, she would not only ease the cross-Straits tensions, which have been rapidly worsening over the past couple of years, but also prevent the island being recklessly used by Washington as a pawn in its games,” the paper said.
Regardless of the reaction from China, however, one thing is clear. Peaceful unification, the idea that Taiwanese voters will choose to join a China ruled by the Communist Party is dead — if it wasn’t already years ago.
Nearly everyone on the island appears to realize this — even Tsai’s more China-friendly rival Han Kuo-yu railed against “one country, two systems.” By taking those concerns and running with them, Tsai scored a thumping 8 million votes, over 2 million more than Han, and greater than the previous record of 7.6 million.
Taiwan has never been controlled by the CCP. The island was a Japanese colony for much of the 20th century. Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, it was placed under under the administrative control of the Republic of China (ROC).
In 1949, the Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the CCP. The KMT established a provisional ROC capital in Taipei, and ruled Taiwan as a one-party state for several decades.
The island began a transition to its current vibrant, multi-party democracy in the 1980s, since when it has been ruled by both a reformed KMT and Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
This history — and public sentiment on the island — has not stopped China’s rulers from pushing for unification, seeing Taiwan’s functional independence as unfinished business from both World War II and the Chinese Civil War. Restoring China to greatness after a “century of humiliation” has long been a key tenet of the Communist Party, and “reclaiming” Taiwan is a major part of this, as was restoring Chinese control over the former British colony of Hong Kong.
Over the decades, Beijing has used both carrots and sticks, building up economic ties across the straits that separate Taiwan from China, and firing missiles into and sailing aircraft carriers through them.
“Beijing should take away at least two lessons from this election. First, economic inducements, information operations, and people-to-people ties are not enough to win over the hearts and minds of Taiwan’s people,” they said. “Both Hong Kong and Taiwan illustrate that democratic societies are hard to control with an authoritarian mindset and toolkit. Beijing needs to rethink its strategy if it wants to pull Taiwan closer.”
Whether Beijing can do this seems unlikely. For years, observers have argued that were Beijing to take a more subtle approach in Hong Kong, giving the city some of the freedoms and autonomy its citizens are calling for in order to undercut more radical demands, it would have more success and fewer headaches.
Hong Kong is already within China’s control, and no matter the desire of a minority of anti-government protesters, there is little risk of it gaining independence anytime soon. On Taiwan, an issue which Beijing has been using for decades to drum up angry nationalist sentiment, the chance of a more shrewd, pragmatic approach is even less likely.
Indeed, the tides of nationalism fueled by the CCP could drive Beijing’s approach in entirely the opposite direction. Addressing Taiwan in a speech last year, Xi said “we make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means.”
In its message to Tsai, China Daily warned her against “only serving the self-interests of her party rather than the welfare of the public.” China’s leaders could do well to take that message to heart themselves.