Taiwan’s presidential candidates are waging an all-out charm offensive to woo millions of young people in the lead-up to this weekend’s election, conscious their votes could push them over the finish line.

Both President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, and challenger Han Kuo-yu have taken to social media and television with meme-filled appeals for support as they lay out competing visions for the island’s future.

Of the 19.3 million Taiwanese eligible to vote on Saturday, 3.1 million (16%) are below 30 years old, while 1.81 million (9%) are first-time voters, according to official data.

Tsai, the front runner in the polls, has appeared the most comfortable winning over youngsters, who tend to be more progressive on social issues and suspicious of China.

Taiwan’s presidential rivals will hold mass rallies late on Friday in a final push to convince voters ahead of a closely watched election that looks set to infuriate China and send ripples far beyond its borders.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, has pitched herself as a defender of Taiwan’s liberal values against the increasingly authoritarian shadow cast by Beijing under President Xi Jinping.

Her main competitor Han Kuo-yu favors much warmer ties with China – saying it would boost the island’s fortunes – and accuses the current administration of needlessly antagonizing Beijing.

Taiwanese voters were increasingly rattled by China’s hard line response to pro-democracy protests in neighboring Hong Kong and the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to one day retake the island, by force if necessary. But China is also Taiwan’s largest trade partner.

Taiwan has long been a potential flashpoint between Beijing and Washington, which remains the island’s main military ally.

he results of Saturday’s vote will also be closely watched by regional powers and in Washington, especially given the parlous state of US-China relations.

Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.

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