He defeated Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, which Beijing views with deep mistrust because of its commitment, at least on paper, to eventual independence for Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
Tsai, a cerebral lawyer who studied at Cornell University and the London School of Economics, muted discussion of Taiwan’s status during the campaign, focusing instead on Taiwan’s widening gap between rich and poor and problems such as housing.
“Both China and the U.S. are breathing a big sigh of relief,” said Su Chi, the head of Taiwan’s National Security Council during Ma’s first term and now director of Taipei Forum, a think-tank. Taiwan, he added, “is the only place that can drag the two largest nuclear armed countries” into war, so neither Beijing nor Washington “wants to rock the boat.”
China kept mostly kept quiet during the campaign — in contrast to earlier elections when it staged missile tests, sent fighter jets into the Taiwan Strait and made verbal threats — but made clear that it preferred Ma.
The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party, welcomed Ma’s victory in commentary posted on its Web site.
Taiwan’s orderly election process — in which a new legislature also was selected — nonetheless delivered a rebuke to the Communist Party, which has long sought to present democracy as a recipe for chaos and a Western import incompatible with Chinese values. Taiwan used to have a highly authoritarian regime but is now the Chinese-speaking world’s most vibrant democracy.
Ma, who was born in Hong Kong to parents who fled Mao Zedong’s 1949 communist revolution, has made warmer ties with Beijing a priority, reaching 16 agreements to expand economic and other links between the two former enemies.
His win, said Yen Chen-shen of the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, shows that “Beijing doesn’t need to use missiles but can buy Taiwan through business.”
Taiwan’s business community, which has invested billions in China, overwhelmingly supported Ma, who initiated direct flights with the mainland. More than 200,000 Taiwanese who work in China, many as factory managers and traders, flew home to vote.
Ma won 51.6 percent of the tally, less than the 58 percent he got in 2008 but still a solid win over Tsai, who received 45.6 percent. James Soong, a defector from the KMT, got 2.7 percent. The KMT also held on to the legislature, although with a reduced majority.