On May 20, 2016, as Tsai Ing-wen addressed the world for the first time as Taiwan’s president, she outlined an international policy vision clearly intended to drive the country away from its reliance on China and toward the rest of the world. Taiwan, she said in her inauguration speech, was ready to pursue its New Southbound Policy – her signature plan for engagement with South and Southeast Asian states – and share its expertise and democratic values with an international community that, by and large, only recognizes Beijing.
“Taiwan will be an indispensable partner for the international community,” Tsai said.
Tsai, who is seeking a second term as president in Saturday’s elections, knew this would always be a hard sell. Only 22 countries had diplomatic relations with Taipei at the time; today, that number has dwindled to 15. Beijing has campaigned to poach Taipei’s allies and to pressure international organizations and corporations to exclude Taiwan, from the World Health Assembly to Marriott and American Airlines. The United Nations, which does not recognize Taiwan, has stopped allowing Republic of China passport holders into its New York headquarters.