Feature Photo Credit: Contributor/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A leaked US diplomatic cable dated January 2006 mentions Tsai Ing-wen as “extremely capable and very persuasive [… and] tenacious negotiator” with “impressive economic experience”. Ten years later, we see her rise up to the top as the incoming President of Taiwan.
Here are 10 facts you should know about President-elect Tsai Ing-wen:
- Tsai is the first female president in Taiwan.
She was the DPP candidate for the 2012 presidential election, which she lost to President Ma Ying-jeou. On February 15, 2015, she announced her second bid for the presidency in the 2016 presidential election and was later officially nominated as the DPP presidential candidate on April 2015. She was elected president on January 16th, joining Park Geun-Hye of SouthKorea and Bidhya Devi Bhandari of Nepal as one of the few current female head of states in Asia.
- Tsai is a moderate, seeking to maintain to “maintain the status quo”.
Viewed by some as the protege of former president Lee Teng-Hui, she supports gradual change without shaking up the Taiwanese political arena. Tsai’s political standing largely contrasts with former President Chen Shui-bian; she is more moderate and cautious compared to Chen’s more overt support of independence. During her campaign, she was ambiguous about her stance regarding cross-strait relations, only reiterating that she plans to “maintain the status quo” in order to avoid shakeups similar to those that occurred during the previous Chen and Ma administrations. During the post-election press conference, Tsai clarified her position of proper dialogue with the PRC to be based on the will and consensus of the Taiwanese people as well the Constitution.
- Tsai’s multicultural experience stems from her academic experiences in Taiwan, the US, and the UK.
In 1978, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in law from National Taiwan University. She then received a Master of Laws from Cornell University Law School in 1980, following with a PhD in law from the London School of Economics four years later. Her multicultural experience in law and economics has helped propel her political career; she was one of the key negotiators involved in Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and she served as an advisor for former president Lee Teng-hui on national security matters.
- Tsai has held many governmental and nongovernmental positions, including heading a biotechnology company.
After studying abroad, Tsai taught law at Soochow University and National Chengchi University. Her efforts led her to helm several prestigious governmental positions, including chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council, vice president of the Executive Yuan, and chairwoman of the Consumer Protection Commission. In 2007, she served as the chair of TaiMedBiologics, a Taiwanese biotechnology company.
- Tsai identifies herself as Hakka.
Tsai Ing-Wen is born into a Hakka family, one of the four major demographic groups in Taiwan (others include Hoklo, Aborigines, and Chinese). Ethnic identity plays a major role in Taiwan; it is a significant topic in socio-political discussions. By identifying herself as Hakka, Tsai attempts to demonstrate that all demographic groups should unify into a cohesive “Taiwanese” identity where members of all groups work together for the greater good of Taiwan instead of narrowly identifying within their own group.
- Tsai encourages others to see Taiwan as a whole.
Tsai believes that although Taiwan has established a democratic system, the people within the system are not unified in creating a better Taiwan. She seeks to put an end to the lack of “mature political interaction” and “malicious fighting between political parties,” stating that she “absolutely will not sit and watch Taiwanese society be continuously torn apart by fighting between political parties”. She proposes to create a Reform Alliance that will recruit talent from everywhere within Taiwan to participate in governance and reform. In her post-election press conference, Tsai referred to the incident with Chou Tzu-Yu (周子瑜) as a reminder of how the Taiwanese are united, regardless of party lines.
- Tsai wants change for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan.
Tsai proposes to change the Legislative Yuan to become more representative of Taiwan’s population. The current system of 113 seats that are distributed through district, party, and aboriginal groups still has several issues, with the party ballot requirement of garnering at least 5% of the vote being the most controversial. Tsai has expressed the desire to lower the party ballot requirement and, in the post-election press conference, vowed to establish a mechanism of proper consultation and communication between the Legislative Yuan and the public.
- Tsai wants to burn the black box for a transparent box.
The “black box” (黑箱) is a governmental transparency issue that has been highlighted in several protests, particularly the Sunflower Movement. Tsai aims to have a transparent and efficient government that will “communicate fully with society so that citizens know [its] reasons, the necessity, and the effects of [its] policies”, thereby eliminating the “black boxes” that the previous administration was accused of.
- Tsai wants Taiwan’s historical memory and legacy reopened.
For many Taiwanese, the transition from Japanese to ROC rule and the period of martial law (commonly referred to as the “White Terror”) is a negative historical memory that remains inadequately resolved. Although the taboo about this horrific period had been lifted, there is still a lack of awareness among the Taiwanese and the international community about the significance of this time. Tsai seeks to create closure through returning stolen assets, fostering honest educational content that focuses on the past, and openly confronting this complex period of history.
- Tsai aims to give hope to the young generation.
Tsai views youth unemployment as a serious issue, stating that “if the nation’s young people don’t have hope for the future, this country has no hope either.” She plans to focus on increasing meaningful employment opportunities for the youth and expanding government social/family services. For those on the other side of the age spectrum, Tsai plans to implement pension and retirement reform to ensure fairer payout to all eligible persons.
Written by Alicia Lee and Jeffrey Tsai
Edited by Eric Tsai