Taiwan’s 15th president and first female leader Tsai Ing Wen took oath yesterday in Taipei as she entered her second term, using her inaugural address to thank the Taiwanese people for their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diplomats and representatives from the U.S and other nations sat on chairs spread 1.5m apart during the ceremony, where Tsai pledged a number of strong initiatives for her government over the next four years, including the development of ICT industries, bolstering national security and building a base for next-generation technologies.
Amid her record approval rating though, it was her forceful message to China during her speech that has made global headlines.
“We will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo,” she said. “We stand fast by this principle.”
“Cross-strait relations have reached a historical turning point. Both sides have a duty to find a way to co-exist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences.”
Since the beginning of her presidency in May 2016, Tsai has been pressured by China’s president Xi Jinping to fold under his demand that Taiwan recognise itself as part of mainland China. China has said for years that any formal declaration of independence by Taiwan would be met by military force. Back in June last year she Tweeted: “As long as I’m president, ‘one country, two systems’ will never be an option.”
In her speech on Wednesday, Tsai called for “peace, parity, democracy and dialogue” with China, and expressed hopes “the leader on the other side of the strait will take on The same responsibility, and work with us to jointly stabilise the long-term development of cross-strait relations.”
Tsai applauded her citizens who have “amazed the international community,” for “exemplifying humanity’s best qualities and helping us successfully bring the coronavirus outbreak under control.”
“No matter the difficulties we face, we can always count on our democracy, our solidarity, and our sense of responsibility towards each other to help us overcome challenges, weather difficult times, and stand steadfast in the world. You have shown the world Taiwan’s commitment to civic virtues, even in times of greatest distress.”
In the last few days, more than 92 foreign dignitaries have sent video messages of congratulations to Tsai, and leaders from the US have taken to social media broadcast their support. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tweeted: “Congratulations to Dr. Tsai Ing-wen on the commencement of your second term as Taiwan’s President. With President Tsai at the helm, our partnership with Taiwan will continue to flourish.”
Pompeo also issued a statement hours before Tsai’s inaugural speech; praising her “courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world.”
“The United States has long considered Taiwan a force for good in the world and a reliable partner,” the statement said. “We have a shared vision for the region — one that includes rule of law, transparency, prosperity, and security for all.”
Joe Biden took to Twitter to say, “Taiwan must remain strong, principled, and bipartisan.”
Indications of potential retaliatory actions were cast by Chinese Foreign Ministry, when on the same day, it issued a statement, which said, “The Chinese side will take necessary measures to respond to the wrong actions of the US, and the US should bear the consequences.”
Tsai will likely face more aggressive moves from the neighbouring superpower in her second term. China has barred Taiwan from joining international gatherings including the World Health Organization (WHO). Earlier this week, the US made a concerted effort to grant the island nation of almost 24 million access to the World Health Assembly, but failed.
Currently, only 14 countries hold official ties with Taiwan, including Nicaragua, Nauru and Honduras.
In the last few years, Pacific Island nations including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands have switched diplomatic relations to Beijing.
In January, Tsai secured her second term in a landslide election victory, which was the biggest election margin for any president of Taiwan since democratic elections began in 1996. Tsai commences her second term with an approval rating of 61 percent, which, according to a survey by broadcaster TVBS released Monday, is the highest since she first took office four years ago.
Since Tsai’s presidency, China’s military have heightened patrols and increased military exercises along the Taiwan Strait that divides the two lands.
Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Aljazeera News she believes the Cornell graduate and former lawyer has what it takes to negative the challenging terrains. “She’s a very good listener,” Glaser said. “She’s very calm, very cool. And she has enormous skills as a negotiator.”
“She will stand her ground in preserving a position. When she makes mistakes, she’s also able to recover from them. If you look back on her first term, there were points where she had very low support in public opinion. But she was able to come back. It will be difficult for any leader to handle all of the challenges that Taiwan faces. The hurdles are enormous, regardless of how capable a president is.”
Since the pandemic began in mid-January, Taiwan’s international status has grown with Tsai’s leadership being praised as responsible for the successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the island, which is less than the size of Tasmania and has almost as many people as Australia, recorded just 440 cases and seven deaths and no new cases since May 7.
Tomorrow, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will deliver his annual report to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, where he is expected to address the issue of cross-strait relations. Last year, Li announced China would “resolutely oppose and deter any separatist schemes or activities seeking Taiwanese independence.”