TAIPEI -- Taiwan's voters have elected Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independent Democratic Progressive Party as their new president in the hope that she will revive the island nation's flagging economy after President Ma Ying-jeou's pro-China agenda failed to boost growth.
Taiwan's once-vibrant economy has lost momentum, leaving the Taiwanese deeply disgruntled about Ma's policy of pursuing closer relations with China. Beijing has made no secret of its desire to re-unite with Taiwan, by force if necessary, since it regards the country as a renegade province.
Ma claimed that Taiwan's economic future laid in stronger and deeper ties with China, but a majority of Taiwanese are not feeling the benefits of Ma's efforts to improve the cross-strait relationship.
Public support for Ma and his Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, waned as China's growing economic influence alarmed many people on the island since they have come to identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
In a press conference after declaring victory in the presidential election, Tsai stressed the need to enhance the competitiveness of Taiwan's industries. She reiterated her desire to see Taiwan join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
"Life is difficult for me as my salary is not rising," said a company worker from Keelung, a city in northern Taiwan. "I really hope Tsai will rebuild the economy."
Statistics highlight Taiwan's economic downturn. Its exports in 2015 fell 10.6% from the previous year to $280.5 billion, according to the finance ministry. It was the first double-digit decline in Taiwanese exports in six years.
The drop was due to China's economic slowdown and weakening global demand for smartphones and other information-technology products manufactured in Taiwan.
Economists warn Taiwan's economic growth rate may have fallen below 1% in 2015.
The previous DPP administration of former President Chen Shui-bian, who governed the island from 2000 to 2008, incurred the wrath of China because of its aggressive pro-independence policy. Taiwan's economy was hurt by its strained relations with China.
When he came to power in 2008, Ma set out to improve and expand Taipei's relations with Beijing, especially when it came to the economy. In 2010, Taiwan and China agreed on an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which amounted to a free trade pact. Ma's pro-China agenda initially won public support, ensuring his re-election as president in 2012.
But Taiwan's economy began to falter as China's red-hot economy cooled and Taiwanese exporters started losing overseas sales to Chinese rivals.
The perception that closer economic ties with China were only bringing benefits to a small number of large companies and the affluent has spread among Taiwanese.
Things are particularly tough for young Taiwanese. The unemployment rate among people aged 15 - 24 stood at 12.3% as of last November, more than three times higher than the national average.
Despite all this, the Ma government in 2013 struck a new services trade agreement with China designed to strengthen bilateral economic ties through the mutual opening of their services markets.
The deal aroused fears among many Taiwanese that the island would be swallowed by their neighboring giant. The deal led to the Sunflower Movement, a student-led protest against the passing of the agreement by the legislature. This culminated in protesters, mostly students, occupying parliament in March 2014, which subsequently slowed down efforts by the Ma administration to expand ties with China.
The growing sense of Taiwanese identity, especially among the young, also worked against the KMT because of the government's efforts to embrace the surging influence of China.