Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Tim Culpan

China Needs to Learn to Deal With the Taiwan Reality

The election confirms that Xi Jinping should try a softer and more pragmatic approach.

How will China build a bridge to them? 

How will China build a bridge to them? 

Photographer: Clicks Images/Getty

Taiwan’s voters chose Tsai Ing-wen as their president for the next four years. Now, China needs to learn to live with it. Beijing can double down on hostility, or try some pragmatic steps that set up the long-term prospect of living together amicably, rather than pushing formulas for unification that Taiwanese won’t accept.

Tsai’s victory was the fourth out of Taiwan’s seven presidential elections won by her Democratic Progressive Party, and reflects a trend of falling support for the Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT, which still harbors dreams of returning to the China it fled in 1949.  Her record vote tally, smashing the KMT’s from 2008, is a clear message to Beijing that support for Tsai and her policies is no fluke.

That wasn’t the result that Beijing wanted, because it knows that the KMT is the only party it can rely on to inch Taiwan toward integration with the mainland, a desire not shared by the broader Taiwanese population. For years, the Chinese Communist Party has used mostly sticks and a few carrots to try influence Taipei. But that’s the thing about Taiwan’s rowdy democracy: It’s not China’s choice. 

This all leaves Chinese President Xi Jinping — who has harshened rhetoric on Taiwan since coming to power in 2013 — and Tsai with a chance for a new beginning. Realpolitik demands discomfort on both sides.