CARTOON: Tough Times Ahead for Tsai in Year Two

CARTOON: Tough Times Ahead for Tsai in Year Two
Photo Credit: Stellina Chen

What you need to know

President Tsai and the DPP are struggling to shake poor approval ratings despite Taiwan’s strong economic performance.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party today mark their first anniversary since taking office in 2016.

As they start their second year in power, broken promises, domestic dissatisfaction and pressure from China are making it difficult for President Tsai and the DPP-led government to enjoy their successes.

The Taiwan economy continues to perform strongly – and better than some expected given increased pressure from Beijing on Taipei’s already-narrow diplomatic space.

As Taipei-based Bloomberg columnist Tim Culpan noted in a May 11 article on the Taiwan stock market, “An investor who put greenbacks in Taiwan the day before Tsai took office would have been rewarded with a 40 percent return, six times the payoff from an investment in China's benchmark CSI300, and even topping the 31 percent gain in Hong Kong's Hang Seng.”

Since the DPP took office, financial ratings agencies have upgraded their views on Taiwan to reflect the stable outlook under the new administration.

Tsai and the DPP have struggled to capitalize on this.

Speaking to the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei two days before the anniversary, Tsai herself acknowledged support was waning despite Taiwan’s economic performance.

“You wonder why all the numbers are improving except the approval rate,” she said. “It's because people are impatient, they want the government to move faster, and to work harder.”

Others see it differently.

Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) is a political activist in Taiwan and one of the student leaders during the 2014 Sunflower Movement.

“This general dissatisfaction among the people is due to a series of policy mistakes and, in particular, the abandonment of campaign promises, such as improved working conditions for the working class, the realization of marriage equality, and the implementation of a cross-Strait agreements oversight mechanism,” Lin writes.

Speaking on May 19, Tsai said that public dissatisfaction with her performance, as seen in surveys conducted recently, is "a price that must be paid" for promoting reforms, Central News Agency reports.

“I chose to push for the most difficult reforms in my first term and my first year in office. None of my predecessors would have done such a thing," she said.

Looking forward, Tsai not only faces major challenges domestically but also on the defense and security fronts.

As defense commentator Michal Thim says, Tsai needs to boost the national defense budget while avoiding a spending blowout on Taiwan-made submarines. She also needs to watch out for aggression in the South China Sea and maintain Taiwan’s defense from cyber attacks.

“Needless to say, Beijing will keep pressure on Taiwan,” Thim noted. “We should expect greater activity of Chinese intelligence services both in Taiwan and in cyberspace.”

Editor: Edward White