Tsai Ing-wen was today sworn in as the new president of Taiwan.

For Taiwan, the day was historic on many counts. The country has its first female president. It also now has in power a reform-pledging leader with a massive mandate for change and a majority in the legislature.

At the inauguration in Taipei this morning, a calm and mostly quiet crowd of thousands sat or stood, listened and watched, occasionally clapped in support, as a new era in Taiwan politics and cross-strait relations began.

What Tsai said

Tsai’s inaugural address clearly laid out the magnitude of the challenge facing the new administration.

Almost every facet of society was covered: from the need to overhaul the pension, education, childcare and judicial systems, to reshaping and repositioning a struggling economy while protecting the environment and lifting youth wages.

Tsai also committed to a transitional justice process to address the crimes of Taiwan’s past, and she signalled greater autonomy for the island’s indigenous population.

As New Bloom’s Brian Hioe writes, Tsai expectedly focused on local reform in her speech, as domestic issues usually weigh more on the minds of voters in Taiwan than foreign policy.

Still, on relations with China, Tsai once again acknowledged the fact that a meeting took place between Taiwanese and Chinese representatives in 1992. She said that since then, “over twenty years of interactions and negotiations across the Strait have enabled and accumulated outcomes which both sides must collectively cherish and sustain; and it is based on such existing realities and political foundations that the stable and peaceful development of the cross-Strait relationship must be continuously promoted.”

“The two governing parties across the Strait must set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides,” she said.

She specified among the “existing political foundations” is the “democratic principle and prevalent will of the people of Taiwan.”

On the South China Sea issue, she said “we propose setting aside disputes so as to enable joint development.”

China responds

China state-owned Xinhua reported that China’s Taiwan affairs authority described Tsai’s position on cross-strait relations as "an incomplete answer sheet."

The head of the authority was quoted as saying that Tsai "was ambiguous on the fundamental issue of the nature of cross-straits relations, an issue that is of utmost concern to people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.”

"There was no explicit recognition of the 1992 Consensus and its core implications, and no proposal of concrete ways to ensure the peaceful and stable development of cross-straits relations,” the authority head said.

Xinhua further quoted the authority as reaffirming China’s position that “if Taiwan independence be attempted, there would be no peace and stability.”

"We will resolutely forestall any separatist action or attempt for 'Taiwan independence' of any form," it said.

Ahead of the inauguration, Global Times, another China state-owned publication, ran an editorial saying: “What can be assured is that DPP's rule will make the suggestion of Taiwan independence further expand in Taiwan society, and take a larger step away from the mainland politically. “Perhaps a new round of contention is inevitable to completely drive the topic of Taiwan independence away while making the one-China principle the one and only starting point to maintain the status quo,” it said.

And, one blogger noted that the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo today appeared to have censored searches for both Tsai Ing-wen and Taiwan.

Global coverage

Given the importance of cross-strait issues to regional economic and geopolitical stability, in the days leading up to the inauguration and the hours that followed, global news coverage unsurprisingly zeroed-in on Tsai’s treatment of relations with China.

Reuters reports Beijing’s Communist Party rulers had been watching Tsai’s speech “for any move towards independence.” It said that as Tsai was sworn in, China was “looking across the Taiwan Strait for signs of creeping independence or anti-Beijing sentiment that could further sour economic ties.”

The Guardian reports that Tsai’s repeated referral to Taiwan as a country and her refusal to embrace ‘one-China’ was “a move likely to infuriate Beijing.” The Guardian also said Tsai’s election victory earlier this year “has gone down badly with China’s Communist party rulers who still lay claim to the island and view her independence-leaning party with mistrust.”

The South China Morning Post reports that Tsai had “shunned mention of the term ‘1992 consensus’ as she urged Taipei and Beijing to set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue.”

The Wall Street Journal similarly reports that Tsai “skirts” the consensus. It also noted that while Tsai’s speech included a pledge to work with the mainland she had “stopped short of endorsing the terms that Beijing sees as vital for that engagement.”

The Associated Press headline on the inauguration read “New Taiwan president omits one-China policy in first speech.” AP said “independence-leaning” Tsai “tread carefully” on relations with China “emphasizing the importance of two decades of growing exchanges without mentioning the one-China policy fundamental to Beijing.”

While Time’s headline read: “Tsai Ing-wen Becomes Taiwan’s First Female President,” it also reports that the landslide victory of Tsai’s DPP in January “threatens to drive a wedge between the ever more independence-minded island and an increasingly hawkish Beijing.”

Taipei-based journalist J Michael Cole, writing for CNN today, says Tsai faces “two very different sets of expectations – from those who voted for her and a Chinese leadership that wants the island on a tight leash.”

Domestically, Cole says, Tsai will now have to focus on “on how she will revive a moribund economy.” On the international stage, he says, “a souring relationship with Beijing could undermine her ability to accomplish what she has set out to do at home.”

Cole, in an op-ed for The News Lens earlier this week, noted the promise made by Tsai and the DPP during the last election campaign “to change the way politics are conducted in Taiwan by rejuvenating the government, empowering youth, and cooperating much more closely with civil society.”

Meanwhile, several writers concentrated on Taiwan’s economy, suggesting that its lackluster performance and weak outlook should be a greater concern to lawmakers than the cross-strait issue.

As Baron’s Asia reports, “Tsai Ing-wen inherits an economy having a mid-life crisis: low-cost China means being smarter and innovative.”

Similarly, Bloomberg reports that Apple is currently a bigger risk for Taiwan’s markets than the new president. The report noted stalled growth in iPhone sales was already impacting the balance sheets of major Taiwanese manufacturing businesses.

“Foreign investors pulled a net $2.2 billion from Taiwan’s shares this quarter, the most among eight Asian markets tracked by Bloomberg, as signs of a deterioration in the smartphone market grew,” the Bloomberg report said.


New Bloom

Focus Taiwan [Tsai’s Full Speech in English]


The South China Morning Post

The Wall Street Journal

The Guardian

The Associated Press



The News Lens


Global Times

Baron’s Asia