Tsai Ing-wen’s legacy: Taiwan’s transition to President-Elect William Lai

As Tsai Ing-wen steps down, her impactful legacy sets the stage for President-Elect William Lai’s ascent, marking a pivotal transition in Taiwan’s leadership.

In 2016, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen created history by becoming the first female head of state on the island.

However, as she gets ready to step down after her second four-year term ends in May, analysts note that she will leave president-elect William Lai Ching-te with a challenging legacy because, during her administration, Taiwan was regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints for conflict.

During an election night rally outside the Democratic Progressive Party headquarters in Taipei, William Lai Ching-te and his running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, (right), celebrate their victory. Elson in picture Li While some analysts said Tsai was not solely to blame, observers said that her management of cross-strait relations was the main cause of the conflict risk.

After Tsai assumed power, cross-strait tensions increased, according to James Yifan Chen, a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in New Taipei. Taiwan is now viewed as a potentially dangerous hotspot for conflict on a global scale.

Following Ma Ying-jeou’s departure from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang in 2016, Tsai abandoned Ma’s engagement strategy with Beijing. She refused to acknowledge the “1992 consensus,” which Ma acknowledged as a verbal agreement that Taiwan is a part of “one China,” despite the possibility that the two sides have different ideas about what China represents.

As a result of her rejection, Beijing launched a pressure campaign in which it halted official negotiations and exchanges, abducted nine of the island’s allies, and conducted military drills all around the island.

As Beijing has stepped up military operations around the island, tensions have increased because Beijing views Taiwan as a part of China that should be reunited by force if necessary.

While the majority of nations, including the U.S., do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state, Washington is dedicated to arming the self-governing island and is against any attempt to seize it by force.

Following an unprecedented third consecutive term for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Tsai’s deputy Lai—previously known as a member of the hardline pro-independence camp—was elected president on Saturday.

Chen stated that Washington’s decision to send a delegation to Taiwan so soon after the election shows that it is worried about the rising geopolitical tensions brought on by the impasse across the Taiwan Strait.

One day following the island’s presidential election, on Sunday, a U.S. delegation led by former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and national security adviser Stephen Hadley arrived in Taiwan.

In the absence of formal ties, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) serves as Washington’s de facto embassy on the island. The organization, led by AIT chairwoman Laura Rosenberger, is scheduled to meet with a “range of leading political figures” on Monday.

According to observers, Tsai’s track record on cross-strait relations could pose difficulties for Lai, and his support for independence would put his capacity for handling the situation to the test.

Tsai’s determination to preserve the status quo and her choice to forgo declaring independence demonstrate her reputation for being willing to make concessions to keep the cross-strait situation from getting worse, according to observers.

Lu claimed that although Tsai was successful in raising Taiwan’s profile internationally, the world was concerned about how she handled cross-strait relations.

By implementing the policy, Tsai hopes to lessen Taiwan’s dependency on the mainland market and persuade Taiwan’s leading business community to reinvest in Southeast Asia and India.

According to Ho, Tsai implemented the policy soon after taking office, but given Taiwan’s continued reliance on mainland China for trade, its results have not been as positive as anticipated thus far.

According to Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, Lai would not stray from Tsai’s core policy tenets, including the New Southbound Policy.

Lai will continue the policy because politics is more important to her than the economy. Given that both Lai and Tsai are staunch supporters of Taiwan’s independence, they are not all that dissimilar. Naturally, Lai has positioned himself as a more assertive figure, referring to himself as a practical advocate for Taiwan’s independence, according to Xin.

However, the academic noted that as Lai pursued his “separatist” cause, he would come up against both internal and external obstacles.