Taiwan’s pro-China opposition Kuomintang stakes future on young new leader

Taiwan’s Kuomintang has selected a reform-minded chairman to rebuild the beleaguered opposition party, a decision that could upend Beijing’s decades-old framework for building ties with Taipei.

Lawmaker Chiang Chi-chen overcame former Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, with more than 68 percent of ballots cast by party members in Saturday’s vote.

At 48 years of age, Chiang is the youngest leader of the KMT in almost 100 years. In the wake the party’s landslide election defeat in January, he has vowed a full “redesign,” including rethinking the “92 consensus,” the vague agreement that underpinned ties between the KMT and China, partly in order to attract the younger voters needed to win back office.

The KMT has traditionally side-stepped frictions with China by accepting the “one China” concept without specifying whether Beijing or Taipei is its rightful representative.

“I’m going to work harder so that all party members can see change in the KMT and once again feel proud to be a member of the KMT,” Chiang said after the election at the party’s headquarters in Taipei.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office congratulated Chiang in a statement late Saturday, adding that it looked forward to the KMT “cherishing and maintaining” its existing policy.

President Tsai Ing-wen — who hails from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party — easily secured a second four-year term in part by making herself one of the Communist Party’s most high-profile critics, a stance that appealed particularly to younger voters wary of China’s goal of incorporating the island into the People’s Republic.

China claims the island as part of its territory, while Taiwan’s government sees itself as a sovereign state.

January’s electoral setback deepened the crisis facing the KMT, which favors eventual unification with China. The loss represented its fourth defeat in the six presidential elections since 2000. Prior to that, the party had governed Taiwan exclusively for the five decades after Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists moved the Republic of China government to Taipei amid the Chinese civil war in 1949.

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