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Ruling-party's Lai Ching-te wins Taiwan's presidential election

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

Taiwan has elected a new president.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Cheering).

LIMBONG: Voters chose Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, to be their next leader.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Lai Ching-te.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Lai Ching-te.

LIMBONG: The results came in just hours after polls closed today. Every single ballot was hand-counted in public for transparency.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

LIMBONG: This race in the world's only Chinese-speaking democracy has been closely watched, both across the Taiwan Strait in China and across the Pacific Ocean in the U.S. And our co-host on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, NPR's Ailsa Chang, is in Taipei to tell us about it. Hey, Ailsa.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Hey, Andrew.

LIMBONG: So is this the outcome people were expecting in Taiwan?

CHANG: Well, going into the race, it did look pretty close. But yeah, a William Lai victory has been predicted the last few weeks. And just to make sure everybody understands, William Lai is the current vice president of Taiwan. He's in the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP. The outgoing president, Tsai Ing-wen, is term limited, but she's been pretty popular. So Lai ran on the promise to continue her policies, especially when it comes to China and the U.S. Also, Andrew, I just want to say, like, this is the first time in Taiwan that the presidency has remained with the same party after two terms. Historically, voters here opt for a change after eight years.

LIMBONG: What's the reaction been so far in Taiwan?

CHANG: Well, our producer, Mallory Yu, was at the DPP's victory party and talked to a man named Ho Wan Xi (ph), who said he is so glad there is going to be continuity in Taiwan's governance.

HO WAN XI: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: He's saying here the current president has led with caution the last eight years without provoking Beijing, and he believes the new president will maintain peace. Meanwhile, I was at the gathering for the main opposition party, the KMT, or Kuomintang, where there was, as you might expect, a much more subdued mood. And we met this woman named Luo Yiting (ph). She's 63, and she kind of blamed the KMT's loss today on the third party in this election for splitting the opposition vote.

LUO YITING: (Non-English language spoken).

CHANG: And she says that the KMT needs to draw younger voters and cultivate younger party leadership. And, you know, we did meet a young KMT voter today. He's 20 years old. His name is Ling Xiyue (ph).

You look very sad. You're crying. Can you tell me what you're feeling right now?

LING XIYUE: Yes. I think that in the future for the four years will be dark in Taiwan - very, very dark.

CHANG: Yeah. He thinks the new president will not communicate effectively with China - like, even less so than the current DPP president has. And that makes him scared of a possible war one day.

LIMBONG: Well, let's talk China. Is this election outcome likely to anger China, you think?

CHANG: Well, it could. The government in Beijing has long maintained that Taiwan is part of China, and the DPP has, in the past, flirted with the idea of Taiwan's formal independence. But that has not been the message on this campaign trail. That said, Chinese officials have maintained that Lai, the president-elect, is a, quote, "troublemaker and a separatist." They've also sanctioned the woman who's been elected vice president today, Bi-him Hsiao, so relations between Taiwan and China could get more complicated in the next four years.

Though I do want to mention it looks like the DPP will not have a majority in the legislature, so that means four years of divided government and possible gridlock on key issues like defense spending. And that split result is something that the Chinese government noted in its response to Taiwan's election results today. In their written statement, they said, quote, "the DPP is unable to represent the majority of the island's public opinion."

LIMBONG: OK. So that's how China might be feeling. But what about us? You know, what about the U.S.? Does the United States have a stake in this election outcome?

CHANG: Absolutely. Support for Taiwan is one of the few issues in Washington that receives wide bipartisan agreement - and for good reason. The U.S. is a major trade partner with Taiwan. This island now accounts for something like more than 90% of the world's most advanced semiconductor manufacturing. So Taiwan is key to global supply chains, which is partly why the U.S. provides Taiwan with weapons. More broadly, Taiwan is one of the few issues, Andrew, that could actually generate a confrontation between the U.S. and China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that Taiwan is, quote, "the most important and most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations." And so any major event in Taiwan, like a presidential election, has the potential to affect the whole dynamic between the U.S., Taiwan and China.

LIMBONG: That's Ailsa Chang, host of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in Taipei, Taiwan. Thanks a lot, Ailsa.

CHANG: Thank you, Andrew. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.