Tsai Ing-Wen begins her second term by reiterating her commitment to maintain status quo

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-Wen was inaugurated for her second term on Wednesday, and during her 30-minute long speech, Tsai reiterated her intention to maintain the cross-strait status quo during her second term. Experts think that overall, her speech reflects her willingness to carry out more reforms over the next four years, but how much reform can she actually achieve remains to be seen.

Tsai Ing-wen officially began her second term as Taiwan’s president on May 20, and through her 30-minute long inauguration speech, Tsai laid out her blueprint for Taiwan’s development over the next four years. Some experts think that Tsai’s strategy to open her speech by thanking Taiwanese people for their patience and cooperation over the last few months proves why she is the right person to lead Taiwan at this particular time.

“I think her speech presents a stark juxtaposition to the US, where civil society is not cooperative and politicians are not acknowledging the difficult reality that the COVID19 pandemic has placed on citizens,” said Lev Nachman, a 2020 Fulbright research fellow based in Taipei.

Nachman pointed out that Tsai also used her speech to highlight Taiwan’s ability to help other countries amid the pandemic, hoping it could remind Taiwanese people of the reasons why they should feel proud of being a Taiwanese.

“She reminded Taiwanese people to be proud of Taiwan’s ability to help the international community, and I think it could help Taiwanese people reflect on the real values of being Taiwanese,” Nachman said.

Chieh-Ting Yeh, Vice Chair of the DC-based Global Taiwan Institute, argues that Tsai had to open her speech with Taiwan’s success in containing COVID19, as it is the only global public policy issue on everyone’s mind right now. “Her message to the world is very clear: ‘this is why Taiwan deserves to be heard,” Yeh said.

Apart from highlighting Taiwan’s success in combating COVID19, Tsai also used the occasion to remind Taiwanese people of the economic achievement that Taiwan has made over the last four years. Nachman points out that while many Taiwanese people are not satisfied with Taiwan’s economic performance over the last four years, Tsai used the speech to show them that Taiwan is one of the very few countries that still has some economic growth amid the global pandemic.

One thing that Tsai also didn’t exclude from her script was her commitment to maintain active international participation. “Over the past four years, we have actively taken part in addressing major global issues, including counter-terrorism cooperation, humanitarian assistance, religious freedom, and nontraditional security,” said Tsai.

Chieh-Ting Yeh thinks this particular highlight shows that Tsai understands Taiwan has momentum and international support right now, and that support is less about sympathy, but more about Taiwan’s legitimacy to speak credibly on international issues.

Maintaining the status quo

One particular aspect that the whole world was paying attention to was Tsai’s cross-strait policies for the next four years. Nachman and Yeh both think Tsai put her emphasis on maintaining the status quo and keep pushing for a possible dialogue with the Chinese government under certain circumstances.

“Tsai reiterated her willingness to adhere to the R.O.C. constitution and she showed no intention to threaten the cross-strait status quo,” Nachman said. “She also emphasized her willingness to have dialogues with Beijing. I think this shows not just her status quo stance, but also she is waiting for the chance to have a conversation with the Chinese government.”

Yeh views Tsai’s cross-strait position as the continuation of her stance since her first term. “Emphasizing peace and dialogue gives her the moral high ground to refuse China’s preconditions, which really boils down to ‘we can discuss anything as long as you agree with me,’” Yeh said.

Additionally, Tsai also promised to establish a constitutional amendment committee in the Legislative Yuan, which will give Taiwan a platform to engage in dialogues and reach consensus on constitutional reforms pertaining to government systems and people’s rights.

In her speech, Tsai specifically highlighted lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 as the priority for constitutional reform, since both major political parties have reached an agreement on this issue.

“There will be a few important constitutional reform issues that Tsai need to take care of and one of them is lowering the voting age to 18,” Nachman explained. “This makes establishing the constitutional amendment committee an important step.”

All in all, Nachman said Tsai made some bold proposals in her inauguration speech, but her track record over the last four years can complicate the amount of reform that she can actually carry out. “We’d like to think that since she is not going to face the pressure for re-election again, there are rooms for her to be more bold,” Nachman said. “Can we expect them to be carried out in such a bold way? We will see.”

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.




William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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William Yang

William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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