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Taiwan Prepares To Hold Presidential Election On Saturday


Taiwan holds a presidential election tomorrow. The island of 23 million people is a wealthy democracy that acts like an independent nation - even though much of the world, including the U.S., doesn't recognize it as one. China maintains it is a province. NPR's Emily Feng is covering the election. She's at a political rally in the capital Taipei. Hi, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So how is the China-Taiwan relationship playing out in this election?

FENG: China's always in the background of every election, but this year, it's been the issue that all candidates have to wrangle with. This year, of course - and starting last year now - have been the Hong Kong protests. Taiwan has looked at Hong Kong, which is not that far away, and seen perhaps a suggestion of what their future might hold if their relationship with Beijing continues the way it is. China rules Hong Kong under something called one country, two systems. China has said it wants to rule Taiwan the same way and has threatened to invade and reunify with Taiwan.

So the presidential candidates have had to take really strong positions on how they want to relate to China. Do they maintain the de facto political status they have now with China, in which Taiwan is, basically, effectively independent but that's - hasn't formally declared that? Or do they set a new path in which they more aggressively pursue independence from Beijing?

GREENE: Well, how do those choices you're talking about play out in terms of the candidates who are running? Who are they and what have their messages been?

FENG: Right. So the presidential candidates are the incumbent, President Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party - She historically comes from a platform that's more pro-independence - and then the opposition party, Kuomintang's Han Kuo-yu. He's been a surprise candidate. He's more populist. He's currently the mayor of a major Taiwanese city.

But he's made a series of political gaffes. He's made sexist and discriminatory remarks, and he's also had a number of corruption and Chinese influence allegations dog him. So just this week, a major story broke in which his party is accused of trying to pay people to spread lies about his opponents and boasting about their ties to China's Communist Party.

GREENE: What could be the possible impact here on the relationship between Taiwan and China?

FENG: With Taiwan, it's always a struggle between, do you pursue economic development or do you pursue political independence from China? And, of course, the economics question is very much also a political question because economic development means, do you want closer ties with the mainland?

President Tsai Ing-wen has said her platform is to focus more on South and Southeast Asian countries. Han Kuo-yu's Kuomintang Party has said, we need to protect our citizens by pursuing closer economic ties, but not political ties, with mainland China. This year, however, even that argument, that we should have closer economic ties with mainland China, has come under fire because of the more authoritarian rise of China nearby.

GREENE: That was NPR's Emily Feng, who is on Taiwan covering the election today. Thanks so much, Emily.

FENG: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.