tsai: Battle for Taiwan: The leader who’s standing up to China – Times of India

TAIPEI: In January 2020, on the eve of her re-election victory, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen stood before a crowd of supporters and delivered a stark warning about China: Beware.
It was a major departure from speeches earlier in her career. Tsai had a reputation for being wooden on the stump. This time was different.
Tsai campaigned passionately in the contest, exploiting heightened fears about life under Chinese rule by zeroing in on the pro-democracy protests that shook Hong Kong in 2019. Beijing was pressuring Taiwan to accept the same formula of limited autonomy – “one country, two systems” – it had pledged for Hong Kong. Tsai declared that China was reneging in Hong Kong and Taiwan must not give in.
“With their lives, blood and tears, the young people in Hong Kong have demonstrated for us that one country, two systems is not feasible,” Tsai said. Supporters roared in approval. Some waved the black-and-white flags carried by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. “Tomorrow, we will let everyone see that Taiwan can safeguard this fortress of democracy for the world.”
It was the culmination of a remarkable transformation for Tsai. A close adviser said she had lost her first presidential run, in 2012, in part because she shied away from talking about the standoff with China, which views Taiwan as its own. She won her second term by a landslide, capitalizing on Taiwan’s fast-growing national identity, after years spent learning from earlier setbacks.
With Tsai now well into her second term, fears in Taiwan about an increasingly belligerent China dominate her presidency. Tsai leads an island of 23.5 million people caught in the middle of a battle for dominance between the United States and a more assertive China under President Xi Jinping. Xi, who sees unification with Taiwan as a fundamental requirement to restoring China to its traditional status as a great power, has repeatedly threatened to bring the island to heel, if necessary by force.
Just as they have divergent views on the future of Taiwan, Tsai and Xi, born just a few years apart, could not be more different. Tsai, fluent in English and educated at elite Western institutions, uses social media to connect with supporters. Xi, son of a famous revolutionary and a product of China’s vast party bureaucracy, appears only at tightly scripted events.
Under Tsai, Taiwan has enjoyed a surge of international backing, with key US allies openly acknowledging the island’s strategic importance. Tsai has hosted several high-level US officials to the island in recent years, while Taiwan retains broad support from American lawmakers, making the island one of the few areas where there is bipartisan agreement in Washington. The opposition KMT, however, says cross-strait relations have deteriorated during Tsai’s presidency.
Tsai declined to comment for this profile. The Chinese government didn’t respond to questions from Reuters.

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