Third time lucky for Taiwan’s Tsai?
President Tsai’s flagship foreign policy aims to redirect bank lending and investment away from China and towards southeast Asia. Taiwan has tried to diversify twice before and failed – will it work the third time?
President Tsai Ing-wen
When running for the highest office in the land, Taiwanese politicians face a conundrum. Do they seek harmony and conciliation with their giant neighbour across the water, or do they seek to provoke difference and dispute with the leaders of the People’s Republic of China, who claim the island state as their own?
Both approaches offer palpable benefits to a rising political star – up to a point. Taiwan’s voting public want their leaders to be strong with Beijing, but only the foolhardy desire a full-scale war of words, let alone a military altercation.
Successive leaders have approached the China question in different ways. Chen Shui-bian, president from 2000 to 2008, was a provocative nationalist who liked to rattle and wrong-foot Beijing. His successor, the mild mannered Ma Ying-jeou, supported unification and shook hands with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Singapore in 2015 – the first meeting between leaders of the two sides in 65 years.
And so we come to the current incumbent.
New Southbound Policy
Tsai Ing-wen became the island’s first female president when she was voted into office in 2016. A protégé of Chen, she unnerved Beijing on the campaign trail by pledging to: “Bid farewell to our past over-reliance on a single market” – a clear reference to Asia’s largest economy.