Why Tsai Ing-wen’s success in containing Taiwan’s coronavirus outbreak could trigger a backlash from Beijing
- Taiwan’s effective management of Covid-19 and its ‘mask diplomacy’ have raised its global profile
- However, Beijing’s distrust of the Taiwanese president is growing, while tensions in the Taiwan Strait have been rising
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will be sworn in today for a second term in office at an inauguration ceremony that has been streamlined due to the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging large parts of the world.
Tsai’s second term begins amid a triumphant atmosphere, with opinion polls showing her approval rating hitting a record high of 70.3 per cent in April, due to her deft handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The island has become one of the few developed economies in the world right now where all schools are open and professional sports events – such as the popular Chinese Professional Baseball League – are being held.
The Covid-19 pandemic will help push Tsai’s policy of reducing Taiwanese industry’s over-reliance on the mainland, a move that had already been boosted by the US-China trade war. Taiwan’s exports have so far relied on a triangular trade system between the island, mainland China and the United States.
Moreover, the island’s international standing has been greatly boosted by its goodwill campaign during the pandemic – it has donated 17 million surgical masks to the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.
Taiwan had attended the meeting as an observer from 2009 to 2016. Since then, it has tried every year to marshal support for a seat at the table. Its campaign this year was widely supported by Western democracies, although Beijing, as expected, again succeeded in blocking Taiwan.
Taiwan’s rising international profile may come at a high cost as it could trigger a backlash from Beijing that Taipei hopes to avoid.
On May 14, the USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, sailed through the strait even as the Chinese military embarked on live-fire naval drills off the mainland’s northern coast.
The democratically-ruled island will face tougher challenges ahead, given Beijing’s increasing distrust of Tsai and her party. Thus, Tsai’s most important mission during her second term will be navigating the troubled waters; maintaining peace and stability is in the best interests of people across the strait and beyond.
Cary Huang is a veteran China affairs columnist, having written about this topic since the early 1990s
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