Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged to make the country a key player in the post-coronavirus pandemic world order, emphasising in her inaugural speech on Wednesday a desire to promote local industries abroad despite global economic hardship.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

In a landslide victory, Tsai – of the Democratic Progressive Party – was re-elected president in January, securing more than eight million or 57 per cent of the popular vote.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

The incumbent leader also issued a strong rebuttal against Beijing’s calls to bring Taiwan under its leadership through a Hong Kong-style “One Country, Two Systems” agreement.

Instead, she highlighted her administration’s desire to stick to the Republic of China (ROC) constitution and maintain the cross-strait status quo.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“We have made the greatest effort to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait over the past four years, gaining approval from the international community. We will continue these efforts, and we are willing to engage in dialogue with China and make more concrete contributions to regional security,” she said.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“Cross-strait relations have reached a historical turning point. Both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term and prevent the intensification of antagonism and differences,” she added.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Taiwan has been ruled by the ROC government since 1945 after Japan – which occupied the island for 50 years – was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims the island to be one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Beijing has attempted to strongarm international governments and organisations into adhering to the “One China” policy and has placed growing pressure on Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic partners.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Riding on the back of its success with tackling the coronavirus early on, the island-nation has in recent months sought to curry international favour, donating medical supplies to countries gripped by the outbreak.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

First detected in Hubei province, China, Covid-19 has infected more than 4.8 million and led to more than 318,000 deaths worldwide, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. With a population of 23 million people, Taiwan, by contrast, has recorded fewer than 450 confirmed cases, despite its exclusion from the World Health Organization.

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“The coronavirus has profoundly affected our world. It has changed the global political and economic order, accelerated and expanded the reorganisation of global supply chains, restructured the global economy, and changed the way we live and shop. It has even changed the way the international community views Taiwan and developments in the surrounding region,” Tsai said.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“Over the next four years, only those who can end the pandemic within their borders, lay out a strategy for their country’s survival and development, and take advantage of opportunities in the complex world of tomorrow, will be able to set themselves apart on the international stage.”

Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Lev Nachman, a Fulbright research fellow based in Taiwan, told HKFP that Tsai’s speech spotlighted a drive to modernise the country’s military capabilities and image, as well as form a constitutional reform committee to facilitate changing the voting age from 20 to 18.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“Her commitment to non-traditional security threats is also not surprising considering how huge Chinese Communist Party-infiltration and disinformation campaigns have been in the last few years,” he said.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Nachman, however, added that the DPP had a “spotty” history in following through with reform: “Hopefully she is committed to seeing these policies through and considering she does not have a re-election in four years, she has the space to do so.”

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.