Tsai Ing-wen sworn in: I respect history, but Taiwan comes first

The new president, the first woman to lead the Republic of China, delivers a long speech in front of 20 thousand supporters. The five points of her program start from the transformation of the economic structure of the island and call for a return of "social justice". The relationship with Beijing comes toward the end: no direct mention of the "1992 Consensus", but a commitment to the maintenance of "stable and peaceful relations" across the Strait.


Taipei (AsiaNews) - In front of 20 thousand enthusiastic supporters, dressed in white and flanked by the deputy Chen Chien-jen, the first female president of Taiwan took office today. Tsai Ing-wen, Democratic, inaugurated her four-year term with a five point speech that has made headlines in the press in mainland China. The leader did not directly mention the "1992 Consensus " - that accepted the concept of "one China" leaving room for interpretation of what "China" actually means- but clarified that she "respects history" and intends to "promote a stable and peaceful relationship" across the Taiwan Straits.

Tsai succeeds the nationalist Ma Ying-jeou, president for two terms from 2008 and the first Taiwanese Head of State to meet a Chinese leader.  She won the presidential elections last January against Eric Chu, a prominent member of the Kuomintang, by a large majority. In a lengthy interview with AsiaNews, her vice president - the Catholic academic Chen - clarified a part of the political agenda in addition to telling his life story and his commitment to the Church.

In her inaugural speech, the President focused on domestic matters. According to the latest available data, in fact, Taiwan is currently in recession and the island's pension system is facing bankruptcy. Earning a length round of applause Tsai said that what is even more serious, "is the fact that our young people suffer from low wages and feel helpless and uncertain about the future. This must be changed, because young people must be the government's priority".

The new president then spoke about the reforms she intends to make during her mandate to achieve a sustainable development model, tackling the "serious environmental damage" suffered by her country, and addressing the issues of regional cooperation and the role of Taiwan in Asia: "If Taiwan does not use its strength to participate actively in regional affairs, not only will we become trivial but we can be marginalized and lose the ability to determine our own future."

At this point, the fourth of the speech, she spoke of the relationship with Beijing: "We will work to maintain peace and stability in the Strait relations. We will work to facilitate internal reconciliation, strengthen democratic institutions, consolidate consensus and present a united position to the rest of the world ". Tsai stressed, however, soon after that "it is my commitment to safeguard the sovereignty and territory" of the Republic of China.

The question is vital to the survival of the former Formosa. Since 1949, the year of the nationalists Chiang Kai-shek escape  to the island Beijing considers Taiwan a "renegade province" to be "forcibly” brought back to the motherland. The United States, supporters of the "Generalissimo", immediately approved a law - the "Taiwan Defence Act" - which requires the US military to intervene in the event of armed aggression. Since then all efforts - more or less peaceful – have focused on restoring relations without triggering a potentially devastating conflict.

The problem also affects Taiwan's participation in great international organizations. The United Nations fact recognizes Beijing, not Taipei, as a legitimate representative of China. So the island cannot be accepted in any transnational forum. Until now it has proceeded by entering as "Chinese Taipei" as an "observer with speaking rights" at least in those fora where its presence is critical, such as the World Health Organization and the Civil Authority for air transport.

Beijing has issued no official reaction to the inauguration ceremony today, although the Chinese press has not failed to point out - with more nuanced tones compared to previous weeks – the public opinion about the new leader of Taiwan. The Global Times, the international edition of People's Daily, writes today that "relations between China and Taiwan enter into an era of uncertainty under Tsai". The newspaper also criticizes "the status quo" policy and the lack of direct reference to the principle of "one China" established with the Consensus. Tsai, however, is recognized to be "more moderate" on the issue of independence of the island compared to former President Chen Shui-bian, in office from 2000 to 2008 and now in jail on corruption charges.