Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has said that she regretted not being able to use Cantonese to communicate with overseas Chinese and relatives from Hong Kong.

Tsai, who attended Cornell University and the London School of Economics, said she realised the importance of Cantonese skills when visiting the Chinatowns in New York and London during her years abroad, Central News Agency reported.

Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Tsai Ing-wen Facebook.

The president made the remarks on Monday at a meeting with visiting delegates of New York’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, an organisation that represents the Chinese community in the city.

“Cantonese has always been a regret to me because some of my relatives are Cantonese people from Hong Kong,” Tsai said. She added that she was unable to communicate with many overseas Chinese in Chinatowns because of the language barrier.

Tsai said Cantonese would be a required language skill for the next director of the Overseas Community Affairs Council, a cabinet-level body tasked with promoting the economic, political and cultural interests of overseas Chinese.

The incumbent director, whose term expires in May next year, is fluent in Cantonese and Taiwanese.

Manhattan’s Chinatown. Photo: Wikicommons.

Tsai became Taiwan’s first female president after a landslide victory in January over the Kuomintang party as voters turned their backs on closer China ties. The main goals of the Tsai administration include promoting alternative energy and reforming Taiwan’s justice system. She also apologised to the island’s aboriginal people for historical injustices in August.

However, Tsai has been battling falling popularity and increased pressure from Beijing since taking leadership in May. Taiwan has recently been barred by China from attending several international events, including a major United Nations aviation meeting in September.

The president previously said her government has “done what it can” to maintain ties with China and called on both sides to bear joint responsibility for cross-strait peace.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.