With Beijing watching closely from across the strait, Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in earlier today as the first female president of Taiwan, assuming leadership of the island of more than 24 million at an uneasy moment in cross-strait relations.
The 59-year-old former law professor, dressed in a beige jacket and black pants, took the presidential oath in front of the Taiwanese flag, beneath a portrait of China’s founding father, Sun Yat-sen, at Taipei’s Ching-kuo Hall.
Some 700 dignitaries from 59 countries and a crowd of 20,000 were on hand to watch as Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan handed the great seal of Taiwan to Tsai, symbolizing her assumption of the office as head of state.
In her inauguration speech, Tsai admitted that she takes over at a “very difficult” time in Taiwanese history, facing a sluggish economy and an uncertain relationship with the mainland. The most closely-watched part of Tsai’s speech came when she talked about the “1992 Consensus,” an agreement of sorts that has governed cross-strait relations for the past two decades. It firmly declares that there is only “one China,” but allows each side to hold a vastly different interpretation of what exactly that means.
Last month, dozens of Taiwanese were deported from Kenya direct to the mainland to stand trial for telecommunications fraud. Many believe that Beijing’s motive for this move was to remind Taiwan’s incoming president about the “1992 Consensus,” which Tsai had remained vague about during her campaign. Tsai is the leader of Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In a speech in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan would not be allowed to split off from the country again. Beijing has made it known that a declaration of independence will be met with a military response. The island of Taiwan still has hundreds of missiles pointed at it.
Of course, Tsai did not declare Taiwanese independence during her inauguration speech, though her choice of words likely won’t please the leaders in Zhongnanhai either.
“I respect the historic fact,” Tsai said, acknowledging that that Beijing and Taipei had reached a common understanding in a 1992 meeting, while failing to actually endorse the consensus in question. Read Tsai’s full inauguration speech in English over at SCMP.
Tsai takes over for Ma Ying-jeou, a member of the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) Party, which got absolutely annihilated at the polls in January by Tsai’s DPP. President since 2008, Ma has been woefully unpopular for the last several years, with his approval rating plummeting below double digits in 2013. During Ma’s two terms in office, Taiwan became closer to the mainland than ever before, with tourism, business deals and diplomatic talks increased to an unprecedented level.
However, improving relations with the mainland did little to appeal to the locals, who began to see Ma as merely a stooge for Beijing as the economic ties failed to deliver on the economic promises that Ma had made. Increasingly unhappy with the status quo, many young Taiwanese have begun to call for independence.
Tsai then is tasked with revitalizing a sluggish economy, without any more help from Beijing. On the campaign trail, she declared that Taiwan will begin to “Look South,” aiming for better trade relations with the nations of Southeast Asia. She also says that she will encourage those Taiwanese businesses with operations in the mainland to move home, though it’s uncertain how successful this policy will be.
Only time will tell what kind of legacy Tsai leaves behind.
meanwhile on Xinhua…