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Taiwan opposition candidate Han Kuo-yu concedes defeat

Tsai Ing-wen was out in front as votes were being counted on Saturday after an election battle dominated by the democratic island's fraught relationship with China.

Election officials display an unopened ballot box prior to counting votes at a polling station in Taipei on 11 January 2020. Picture: AFP

TAIPEI - Opposition candidate Han Kuo-yu conceded defeat in Taiwan's presidential election Saturday night, saying his rival President Tsai Ing-wen had won a second term.

"I have called President Tsai to congratulate her," the Kuomintang party candidate told a crowd of supporters in the southern city of Kaohsiung.

"She has a new mandate for the next four years."

Tsai Ing-wen was out in front as votes were being counted on Saturday after an election battle dominated by the democratic island's fraught relationship with China.

Unofficial live tallies kept by major local news networks showed the 63-year-old securing around 56-57% of more than 10 million votes counted so far.

Her main rival Han Kuo-yu, of the China-friendly Kuomintang party (KMT), trailed with 38-39% on an island where some 19 million people are registered to vote.

The outcome will reverberate far beyond Taiwan's borders with Tsai and Han laying out very different visions for its future -- in particular how close the self-ruled island should tack to its giant neighbour.

Beijing views Taiwan as part of its territory and has vowed to retake the island one day, by force if necessary.

But China is also Taiwan's largest trade partner, leaving the island in a precariously dependent relationship.

Tsai, seeking a second four-year term, has pitched herself as a defender of Taiwan's liberal values against the increasingly authoritarian shadow cast by Beijing under President Xi Jinping.

"We hope our citizens can come out to vote to exercise their rights and make Taiwan's democracy stronger," she told reporters after voting in the capital Taipei.

Han, 62, favours much warmer ties with China -- saying it would boost Taiwan's fortunes -- and accuses the current administration of needlessly antagonising Beijing.

He has cast the election as a choice between "peace or crisis" with China, adopting the slogan "Taiwan safe, people rich".

Thousands of supporters began gathering Saturday night for election count rallies but the atmosphere at Han's event in Kaohsiung was markedly more subdued with some in tears, AFP reporters said.

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