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Taiwan votes for a new president against a backdrop of growing China threats

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Taiwan began voting Saturday in a closely watched election that could reverberate far beyond its shores after years of growing threats from Beijing, which warned this week the island’s future is at a “crossroads.”

The self-governing island of 24 million people will choose both a new president and parliament at a time of heightened tension with China, which under leader Xi Jinping has become much more powerful – and increasingly belligerent toward Taiwan.

Polls opened on Saturday morning and will close at 4pm (3am Eastern Time). The result is expected later that evening under Taiwan’s famously efficient and transparent counting process.

The boisterous election campaign, itself an illustration of Taiwan’s vibrant democratic credentials, has been fought over a mixture of livelihood issues as well as the thorny question of how to deal with its authoritarian neighbor to the northwest.

China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan as its territory, despite having never controlled it. And Xi has called Taiwan’s unification with the mainland “a historical inevitability.”

The results will not only decide Taiwan’s future, but could also reshape its relations with Beijing and pose a test to the latest efforts by the United States and China to stabilize rocky ties.

Beijing, which routinely sends fighter jets and warships close to Taiwan’s skies and waters, has framed the vote as a choice between “peace and war, prosperity and decline.” On Wednesday, it warned Taiwan’s voters to “make the right choice at the crossroads of cross-strait relations” while railing against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has won Taiwan’s last two presidential elections.

In the final days leading up to the vote, candidates toured major cities around the island to stage nightly campaign rallies, featuring rock music, emotional speeches and the rhythmic chanting of slogans by large crowds. (CNN)

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