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China has had a muted response to Taiwan's weekend elections

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Taiwan chose a new president-elect and legislature this past weekend in an election China was closely watching. That's because China sees self-ruled Taiwan as Chinese territory and one day hopes to control the island. And it snubbed Taiwan today by poaching one of Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies, the island nation of Nauru. With us is NPR's Emily Feng, who is in Taipei and reporting on this closely. Hi, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So tell us more about this diplomatic switch. Nauru is a tiny Pacific island. Why were China and Taiwan competing over it?

FENG: Because Taiwan and China see themselves as competing governments who believe they have the rightful - the right to govern over the same territory. The rest of the world - including the U.S., by the way - recognizes China, however, as a country rather than Taiwan. And now that China's poached Nauru, Taiwan only has 12 allies in the world, including the Vatican, which recognize Taiwan is a country. And it's a sign of how successful China has been in leveraging its larger economic might and diplomatic weight to build influence in the Pacific region. And this timing - you know, the first working day after Taiwan's elections - is a pretty humiliating blow for Taiwan. Taiwan's foreign ministry said China poaching Nauru was very sudden. They said it was, quote, "revenge against democratic values," basically punishment for holding elections. They said Nauru had come to them demanding an amount of money to keep ties that Taipei just really could not afford. And they insinuated China might have paid quite a bit to buy diplomatic ties from Nauru, which is an allegation that China's foreign ministry refused to comment on today.

FADEL: OK, moving from diplomacy - are there any signs that China plans on increasing its military intimidation of Taiwan because it's unhappy about the outcome of the election?

FENG: So far, no. And this is interesting. The rhetoric from Beijing has been quite muted this time around, in line with what they usually put out every time Taiwan has elections. And a part of this is China seems to be trying to patch up its relationship with the U.S., which has been warning China not to threaten Taiwan over these elections. And in fact, today there's a U.S. delegation of current and former officials visiting Taipei, which is a further sign to China to not try anything. And another big reason behind this restraint is Beijing might actually see the Taiwan elections as playing in their favor. The Taiwanese president-elect only won about 40% of the popular vote. His party, which Beijing strongly dislikes, lost their legislative majority. Here's Taiwan's new president-elect Lai Ching-te speaking on election night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT-ELECT LAI CHING-TE: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He acknowledged that he did not win a majority because he did not work hard enough, and he's going to have to incorporate the policies of his opponents, meaning work with them. Translating from this political speak, this means there is going to be political gridlock on things like Taiwan's budget and defense policy, and all of those delays could benefit Beijing.

FADEL: So what's the mood in Taiwan with this political drama swirling around?

FENG: It's pretty calm. I mean, despite this drama, this was a really smooth election. All the votes were counted accurately and quickly, the opponents conceded rapidly, and Taiwan's now getting back to business after a month of campaigning. But we're looking at a very, very long lame-duck period. The inauguration for the president-elect is in late May, and a lot could happen before then.

FADEL: That's NPR's Emily Feng in Taipei, Taiwan. Thank you, Emily.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Emily Feng
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.