Hong Kong CNN  — 

Speaking in 1995, a hundred years after Japan’s seizure of Taiwan, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin said it was the “sacred mission and lofty goal of the entire Chinese people” to see the unification of the island with mainland China.

In Hong Kong two years later, Jiang oversaw the implementation of the model he said would achieve just that, “the great concept of ‘one country, two systems’” – a process whereby the city would continue to maintain its distinct political and legal systems, while becoming part of a unified China.

On Saturday, Taiwan voted overwhelmingly to reject that model, reelecting President Tsai Ing-wen in a landslide. The campaign was dominated by fears of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a desire not to follow the path of Hong Kong – where “one country, two systems” looks shakier than ever in the wake of sometimes violent anti-government unrest.

Responding to Tsai’s victory, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said that “regardless of what happens in Taiwan, the basic facts won’t change: there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China.”

Supporters of Han Kuo-Yu, presidential candidate for Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, react during a rally outside the campaign headquarters on January 11, 2020 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

In an editorial, the state-run China Daily said Tsai had an “opportunity to mend her ways.”

“By dialing down the confrontational approach she has taken toward Beijing, she would not only ease the cross-Straits tensions, which have been rapidly worsening over the past couple of years, but also prevent the island being recklessly used by Washington as a pawn in its games,” the paper said.

The nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times took a more forceful approach, saying that Beijing needed to begin plans to “crack down on Tsai’s new provocative actions, including imposing military pressure, which is an unbearable option for Taiwan authorities.”

Speaking during a trip to Africa Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said those who attempt to “split the nation are destined to stink for a thousand years.” (An official English language translation of Wang’s remarks rendered them as the less salacious “bound to leave everlasting shame throughout history.”)

Regardless of the reaction from China, however, one thing is clear. Peaceful unification, the idea that Taiwanese voters will choose to join a China ruled by the Communist Party is dead – if it wasn’t already years ago.

Nearly everyone on the island appears to realize this – even Tsai’s more China-friendly rival Han Kuo-yu railed against “one country, two systems.” By taking those concerns and running with them, Tsai scored a thumping 8 million votes, over 2 million more than Han, and greater than the previous record of 7.6 million.

A supporter of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen displays a banner outside the campaign headquarters in Taipei on January 11, 2020.

Historically independent

Taiwan has never been controlled by the CCP. The island was a Japanese colony for much of the 20th century. Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, it was placed under under the administrative control of the Republic of China (ROC).

In 1949, the Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the CCP. The KMT established a provisional ROC capital in Taipei, and ruled Taiwan as a one-party state for several decades.

The island began a transition to its current vibrant, multi-party democracy in the 1980s, since when it has been ruled by both a reformed KMT and Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Much support for Taiwanese independence is driven by hostility toward Beijing’s post-1949 communist government and a desire to protect the island’s hard-won democratic freedoms. That support is bolstered by Taiwan’s long history of being ruled separately from the mainland, both as a colony and as independent kingdoms.

Indigenous Taiwanese, who make up around 2% of the population, trace their history on the island back around 10,000 years, and are more closely related to southeast Asian peoples than they are Chinese.

“(We) have witnessed the deeds and words of those who came to this island, including the Spanish, the Dutch, the Koxinga Kingdom, the Qing Kingdom, the Japanese, and the Republic of China,” a number of indigenous groups said in an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, saying they “do not share the monoculturalism, unification, and hegemony promoted by you.”