Taiwan inaugurated its first female president Friday — who is also, as The Associated Press notes, “the first woman elected as head of state in Asia not related to a prominent male politician.”
As we reported after Taiwan’s elections in January, Tsai Ing-wen faces a delicate balancing act.
The self-governing island of Taiwan functions like an independent country, but China regards it as a rogue province.
Tsai’s party has previously called for formal independence from China. Beijing has threatened war in response to any claim of independence, and hinted at a possible economic backlash to smaller policy shifts away from China. (Taiwan is highly dependent on trade with the mainland).
Many Taiwanese are comfortable with the current situation, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn has reported, and uninterested in openly provoking China. That doesn’t mean there’s support for unification: the last president lost power because voters thought he was “too chummy with Beijing,” Anthony says.
“So Tsai and her party have moved to the center,” Anthony says. She’s signaled that she would largely focus on domestic issues.
Beijing, skeptical of Tsai, wants her to publicly acknowledge the “one-China” policy.
In her inauguration speech, she entirely avoided references to the issue, the AP reports:
“Tsai said in her speech that she respected the ‘joint acknowledgements and understandings’ reached between the sides at a landmark 1992 meeting seen by China as underpinning all subsequent contacts and agreements.
“However, Tsai made no explicit mention of the concept that Taiwan is a part of China. Beijing claims the self-governing island as its own territory and says failing to endorse the one-China principle would destabilize relations.”
In more subtle ways, her inauguration ceremony de-emphasized ties with China, Anthony reported on Morning Edition:
“Performances at the inauguration celebrated a Taiwanese identity distinct and separate from that of China. Aboriginal children sang the national anthem.
“Actors played the part of students fighting for democracy against the former dictatorship of the long-ruling Nationalist government.”
Tsai’s speech praised Taiwanese democracy and spoke of addressing economic and judicial issues.
After the inauguration, China responded with a statement reiterating demands for unification.
“Today, our determination to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unshaken, our capability is strengthened and we will resolutely contain any ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist acts or plots in whatever form they take,” Beijing said, according to the AP.
The U.S. officially recognizes China’s policy, Anthony reports, while quietly cooperating with Taiwan’s military.