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Populist Taiwan mayor to run against President Tsai Ing-wen

By
Elizabeth Shim
Kaohsiung City Mayor Han Kuo-yu has won his party’s nomination ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2020. File Photo by Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE
Kaohsiung City Mayor Han Kuo-yu has won his party’s nomination ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2020. File Photo by Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA-EFE

July 15 (UPI) -- A Taiwanese mayor who has argued for friendlier relations with Beijing has been picked to run against President Tsai Ing-wen in the 2020 elections in Taiwan.

Han Kuo-yu, who has been described as a pro-China populist in local media, won a nationwide poll conducted by his party the Kuomintang, gaining more than 44 percent of the vote, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported Monday.

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Han defeated his main rival, Foxconn chief Terry Gou, who received about 27 percent of the vote. Gou issued a congratulatory message to Han following the poll results; it is unclear whether he will continue to run as an independent candidate, according to the report.

Han was a relatively low-profile politician in Taiwan until he was elected mayor of Kaohsiung City in November, in a region where Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party has dominated politically.

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Elections are to be held on Jan. 11.

Under Tsai, tensions have grown between Taipei and Beijing. Tsai has indirectly criticized China's authoritarian government and has said she would defend Taiwan's democracy as China stepped up naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait.

Tsai has also pushed aside rivals in her party, including former Premier William Lai, who briefly gained more support than Tsai in a poll conducted in May.

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Tsai's tough position on China comes at a time when Beijing has claimed the United States is exacerbating tensions by supplying weapons to Taiwan.

Taipei and Beijing have also begun to engage in a war of words on Twitter, according to Hong Kong news service Ming Pao on Monday.

The dispute in social media may have begun when China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, tweeted, "Taiwan is part of China. No attempts to split China will ever succeed."

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Taiwan's foreign ministry responded by uploading a photo of Taipei's foreign minister before the Statue of Liberty in New York, where Tsai had made a stopover despite opposition from Beijing. The tweet includes criticism of Chinese social media policy.

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