Tsai Ing-wen, a 59-year-old former law professor, has been “thrust into one of Asia’s toughest and most dangerous jobs” after winning the Taiwanese presidential elections last Saturday, says The Guardian. The sweeping victory – her Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) also secured 68 of the 113 seats in Taiwan’s legislature – came amid strident warnings from Chinese state media, warning Tsai and her party against any move towards independence. Taiwan is a self-governing democracy of 23 million people, but China sees it as a renegade province and has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island.
Tsai Ing-wen is only the DPP’s second leader to rule Taiwan. “Tensions” between the island and China rose during the 2000-2008 term of the DPP’s previous president, Chen Shui-bian, says Neil Connor in The Daily Telegraph. A state newspaper, The Global Times, warned that if her administration tried to “cross the red line”, Taiwan would meet a “dead end”.
Under the outgoing Kuomintang (KMT) president, Ma Ying-jeou, there has been an “unprecedented rapprochement with China”, including a historic meeting with China’s president last November, says Tom Phillips in The Guardian. But there has also been “growing dissatisfaction” at his lack of progress. Taiwan’s economy grew by just 1% last year, despite Ma’s guarantees that pro-China policies would have a positive effect.
There are hopes Tsai Ing-wen can deliver major reform (she wants to diversify trade relations and tackle youth unemployment and the wealth gap), but “improving the economy will mean maintaining stable cross-strait relations”, says Ben Bland in the FT. About 40% of Taiwan’s exports go to China – “if it feels slighted, Beijing is not above stymieing the island’s international commercial ties”. Tsai Ing-wen’s backers say she has a record of managing tough issues and is an experienced negotiator. “Much will depend on whether [she] can rule with the same level-headed practicality that has earned her the support of so many Taiwanese.”