Lai Ching-te, who won Saturday's Taiwan presidential election to continue the rule of his independence-leaning party, is set to face challenges in managing relations with China that detests him and the territory's parliament as his party failed to secure a majority.

Beijing, which seeks to bring the self-ruled island into its fold by force if necessary, will likely ramp up military and economic pressures on the territory following Lai's win while refraining from taking excessively provocative measures in the Taiwan Strait amid signs of easing Sino-U.S. tensions, observers say.

Taiwan Vice President Lai Ching-te (L), who heads the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim are pictured together in Taipei after he won the presidential election on Jan. 13, 2024. (Kyodo)

In the presidential race, the head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party beat his rivals from the two largest opposition parties that call for dialogue with the mainland, which has shunned talks with the DPP government led by President Tsai Ing-wen since 2016.

However, the DPP lost its majority in the 113-member Legislative Yuan in the parliamentary election held simultaneously on Saturday, with the main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), and the second-largest opposition Taiwan People's Party gaining more seats.

The outcome of the legislative election was believed to reflect voter frustration with the DPP's eight-year rule, particularly among young people seeking to change the government, experts said.

But Lai's victory, marking an unprecedented third consecutive four-year term for his party since direct presidential elections were introduced in 1996, suggests Taiwan people's wish to see the continuation of Tsai's foreign and defense policies, they added.

Under the Tsai government, Taiwan sought to maintain the status quo in cross-strait relations, strengthening its ties with the United States and its allies as well as boosting the island's own defense capabilities.

John Lim Chuan-tiong, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the DPP's continued rule is a "shock" for Beijing as it deals a setback to its efforts to bring about eventual unification and China may harshly treat Lai, whom it calls a "die-hard secessionist."

Communist-led China and the island have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war.

Cross-strait tensions will likely continue after Lai takes office in May but will "not likely escalate into a war," Lim said. "Beijing will not send its planes into the airspace over Taipei," an act that would exceed the level of its previous large-scale military drills conducted near the island, he added.

The professor based his prediction on prospects that relations between the world's two largest economies will not deteriorate further following a summit near San Francisco in November between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as China's slumping economy.

Lim also said ties between Beijing and Taipei "will not likely sharply improve nor worsen compared with the past eight years" under the Tsai government.

Tai Wan-chin, a professor emeritus at Tamkang University in New Taipei, also denied the possibility of cross-strait tensions flaring up immediately after Lai's victory, pointing to a U.S. visit by a senior official of China's Communist Party at this "sensitive moment."

Liu Jianchao, head of the Communist Party's International Liaison Department, agreed Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on the importance of maintaining communications and implementing the progress made at the November summit to stabilize bilateral ties.

Blinken reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, according to the State Department. Tai said Washington wants a "compromise and reconciliation" with Beijing and there is no room for Lai to deviate from U.S. policy.

The Taiwanese professor said Lai's foreign policy will be pragmatic with the help of his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim, the island's former de facto ambassador to the United States, who will become vice president.

Tai said Hsiao is familiar with U.S. political elites' stances toward Taiwan and China. "The Americans won't have to worry about Lai being a pro-independence president because the United States will always know Lai's intention via Hsiao," he said.

Both Lim and Tai pointed out that Beijing will not necessarily view the Taiwan election outcome as a heavy blow because the DPP lost control of the legislature. With the KMT also failing to secure a majority, the TPP is set to hold the balance of power.

"Beijing is still happy because DPP strength is smaller than before because of the TPP's rise," Tai said. The passage of important bills such as budgets could be obstructed, he added.

Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, forecast that Lai's government will likely be swayed by TPP leader Ko Wen-je's thinking for the next four years.

The TPP is not expected to form a parliamentary coalition with either the DPP or KMT so it can wield influence during deliberations on each bill. "Lai could see important budgets and legislation for (Taiwan's) diplomacy and security, such as the purchase of U.S. arms, stopped and that will be damaging," the Japanese professor said.

Ogasawara urged both the United States and Japan to approach not only the island's ruling party but also lawmakers of the KMT and TPP, especially younger members, to closely monitor developments in the Taiwan parliament and craft better policies related to the international affairs.

He warned China could also deepen contact with the two opposition parties to achieve a change of government in Taiwan four years later.

If Beijing sees the Lai government tormented by the hung parliament and the legislature adopts initiatives favored by China, such as the promotion of cross-strait exchanges, the mainland will be less motivated to take control of the island through the use of force in the next four years, Ogasawara said.

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