tirsdag 21. mai 2024

Tsai Ing-wen: the leader who put Taiwan on the map and stood up to China

Tsai Ing-wen never set out to be a leader. Growing up shy, she aspired to become an archeologist, because “people that are dead already wouldn’t jump up and argue with you.” But instead of picking over the remains of history, the self-described introvert ended up charting a new course for Taiwan in some of the world’s choppiest geopolitical waters.

“At this very moment, Taiwan faces a difficult situation,” Tsai said in her inauguration speech when she became the island’s first female president in 2016. She was handed a flatlining economy, a lagging military and a groundswell of discontent over her predecessor’s push to forge closer ties with neighboring China, an authoritarian giant that has vowed to one day absorb the self-ruled democracy.

Eight years on, as the 67-year-old prepares to step down after two terms in office, she leaves the island of 23 million people with an elevated international profile, a firmer partnership with the United States, ongoing defense reforms and a consolidated sense of its distinct Taiwanese identity.

It is also left with the looming threat of invasion by China, which has grown more assertive and belligerent under strongman leader Xi Jinping. Xi has ramped up pressure on Taiwan and vowed to never renounce the use of force to bring it under control.