‘Immense challenges’ as Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen begins second term

As the territory’s first female president takes oath on Wednesday for a second term in office, her approval ratings are at a record high and Taiwan’s international standing is growing over its successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The self-ruled island of 23 million people has recorded just 440 cases and 7 deaths despite its close proximity to China, the origin of the respiratory illness that has now killed quite 320,000 people globally.

But subsequent four years will convince be challenging for Tsai, consistent with experts.

Cross-strait relations with China, which claims Taiwan as its own, are at an rock bottom . involves a proper separate Beijing are likely to grow, while the island’s export-driven economy is predicted to contract the maximum amount as 4 percent because the pandemic curbs demand in key markets.

“The challenges are immense,” said Natasha Kassam, a search fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia. “As President Tsai looks forward to subsequent four years, she is going to got to demonstrate an equivalent competency and preparedness that she has shown during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With swift and decisive action, Tsai’s government managed to see the new virus’s spread early . Taiwan was among the primary to screen arrivals from China. It began doing so in early January, soon after reports emerged of a respiratory disease within the central Chinese city of Wuhan. An aggressive contact tracing and quarantine campaign followed, allowing the island to avoid the infection rates and stifling lockdowns seen elsewhere.

Taiwan’s successful response has won Tsai plaudits across the planet , but the boost to its global status has only worsened relations with China.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated tensions that already existed within the Taiwan Strait,” said J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based analyst at the worldwide Taiwan Institute.

“China’s cover-ups within the early stages of the epidemic in Wuhan, contrasted with Taiwan’s openness and rapid response to the virus, has been noticed globally, and therefore the Chinese Communist Party resents that. Beijing is therefore expected to undertake to undermine the strategic gains that Taiwan has made since January by acting in a good more belligerent fashion.”

These frictions, consistent with observers, are rooted within the island’s ambiguous status.

Taiwan, as we all know it today, is that the results of the Chinese war , which Chinese nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Led by Chiang Kai-shek , the nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 and found out the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) on the island. The nationalists initially intended to retake the mainland, but ultimately abandoned their dream. They never declared independence, however.

With its own military and foreign ministry, Taiwan also has its own distinct identity, with two-thirds of the island’s population saying they are doing not identify as Chinese, consistent with a recent survey. Another poll from October last year showed nearly a 3rd of the Taiwanese people favour independence, while some 25 percent said they favour maintaining the established order .

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, reunification is a problem of legacy. Xi sees reclaiming Taiwan as a mission that might assure his place in history, alongside leaders like Mao. during a 2019 speech, he outlined his grand vision of “One China” and warned Taiwan that any effort to say full independence would be met by armed force.

Tsai responded by telling China to point out Taiwan respect. The island was already an independent country called the Republic of China, Taiwan, the 64-year-old former lawyer said, while also offering to speak to China without pre-conditions.
But Beijing has refused. Since Tsai’s election in 2016, it’s stop official communication together with her government and convinced a minimum of seven countries to transfer diplomatic ties from Taipei to Beijing. It also sought to squeeze Taiwan’s economy by preventing individual Chinese tourists from visiting the island.

But ironically, observers say it had been China’s actions that assured Tsai her landslide victory within the January election. She had been trailing in opinion polls early last year – amid wage stagnation and unpopular pension reforms – when protesters in Hong Kong took to the streets to denounce Beijing’s increased interference within the territory’s affairs.

Tsai was quick to supply her support to the Hong Kong protesters during a Twitter post saying: “We stand with all freedom loving people of Hong Kong”. within the same tweet, she said Taiwan’s “hard-earned democracy must be guarded” and went on to reject the “one country, two systems” model which ties Beijing and Hong Kong together.

“As long as I’m president, ‘one country, two systems’ will never be an option,” she wrote. When the Taiwanese headed to the polls this January, Tsai’s firm stance within the face of Xi’s warnings and therefore the crackdown in Hong Kong helped her secure the very best number of votes ever within the territory’s history.

And so with Tsai’s re-election, Beijing has only intensified the military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei.

Chinese military aircraft have crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait a minimum of 3 times in recent months, while a Chinese carrier and five warships sailed on the brink of Taiwan through the Miyako Strait in April. Beijing has also reportedly threatened to chop off all economic ties with the African kingdom of eSwatini, formerly referred to as Swaziland if it doesn’t break off relations with Taipei.

Tsai “can expect Beijing to bring greater pressure in touch on Taiwan,” Cole said, adding that he expected the military and diplomatic action to be “accompanied by ramped up political warfare efforts to erode and weaken Taiwan’s democracy and skill to function as a coherent state”.

The pandemic, however, has created diplomatic openings that would help Taiwan affect China, he says, namely closer relations with the us .
Washington is Taiwan’s security guarantor and has seized on the chance to spice up the island’s international status at a time when its own ties with China have deteriorated amid disputes over trade relations and therefore the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, US President Donald Trump signed a law that needs his country to press for Taiwanese recognition in international forums – a move Chinese state media slammed as US support for Taiwanese separatism.

But Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the middle for Strategic and International Studies, says “the tools the US has got to help Taiwan are limited” mainly due to Taiwan’s isolation on the international stage. at the present , only 14 nations recognise the territory.

Yet Tsai remains likely to “face pressure from a number of the novel elements of her own party, who would really like her to seize the chance to press more pro-independence measures,” Glaser added.

That is bound to strain cross-strait relations even further. But Glaser says conflict remains unlikely, with China seeming unwilling to risk a military confrontation with the US that risked plunging the region into chaos.

Despite the uncertainty, Glaser says she has faith in Tsai’s ability to steer Taiwan. 

“She’s a really good listener. She’s very calm, very cool. and she or he has enormous skills as a negotiator,” the analyst said, noting Tsai’s lead role in negotiating Taiwan’s accession to the planet Trade Organization in 2002.

At her inauguration on Wednesday, Tsai left the door open for talks with China, saying ties were at a turning point. But she again stressed Taiwan would never consider “one country, two systems”.
“She will stand her ground in preserving an edge despite the very fact she is widely criticised. and that i respect that,” Glaser adds, pertaining to Tsai’s decision to erupt much-needed pensions reforms despite widespread opposition. “And when she makes mistakes, she’s also ready to get over them. If you reminisce on her first term, there have been points where she had very low support publicly opinion. But she was ready to come .”

Still, Glaser cautions: “It are going to be difficult for any president to handle all of the challenges that Taiwan faces. The hurdles are enormous, no matter how capable a president is.”

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has never been more popular.

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