Taiwan votes in presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday, which will set the course for the democratic island’s ties with its giant and autocratic neighbor China, which claims Taiwan as its territory.
Aside from its key role in the global supply chain as a high-tech manufacturer, mostly notably as an Apple Inc (AAPL.O) supplier, Taiwan is in a strategic location just off the coast of China and on the edge of the Pacific.
It is a potential military flashpoint between China and the United States, which sells arms and provides other assistance to Taiwan.
The self-ruled island lies on major shipping lanes between Southeast Asia and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, and on the disputed South China Sea, where China has built artificial islands and air bases.
Taiwan is also close to a major U.S. military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
President Tsai Ing-wen is seeking a second term in office. Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) favors the island’s formal independence. Tsai has said repeatedly in the campaign that Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
Tsai says it is up to Taiwan, not China, to decide the island’s future, and has warned of the Chinese threat to democracy and liberty.
Her main opponent is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which ruled China until 1949 when forced to flee to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists.
Han favors close ties with China as the only way to ensure Taiwan’s security and prosperity, though says he will defend the island’s freedoms and democracy.