China uses this system, which is supposed to guarantee a high degree of autonomy, to run the former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It has offered it to Chinese-claimed Taiwan too, though all major Taiwanese parties have rejected it.
Tsai represents the ruling Democratic Progressive Party which advocates Taiwan’s formal independence, something Beijing says it will use force to prevent.
She won in a landslide last year after the repression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong solidified public opinion in Taiwan against moves toward accepting rule by Beijing.
The sides split amid a civil war in 1949. Beijing cut off ties with Tsai’s government over her refusal to accept its demand that she recognise the island as a part of China. Beijing’s diplomats have shut Taiwan out of international gatherings such as the World Health Assembly and poached its diplomatic allies while its military has boosted patrols and exercises aimed at intimidating the island’s population.
Tsai’s inaugural address and parade celebrated the island’s mixed Chinese and Asian-Pacific heritage. A former law professor, Tsai, 63, is unique in being the only modern woman leader in Asia to rise to the top without being part of a political dynasty.
Among those attending the ceremony were representatives of Taiwan’s remaining 15 formal diplomatic allies. The US maintains strong but informal ties with Taiwan and is the island’s main source of military support against China’s military threats.
Prior to her address, congratulatory remarks from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were read out praising Tsai’s “courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world”.
“The United States has long considered Taiwan a force for good in the world and a reliable partner,” Pompeo said in the statement. “We have a shared vision for the region – one that includes rule of law, transparency, prosperity, and security for all.”
The US support comes amid rising frictions between Washington and Beijing over trade, technology and allegations of Beijing’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the same time, Washington has increased military sales to the island of 23.6 million and Congress has passed legislation promoting closer political and economic ties.
Despite Beijing’s attempts to isolate it diplomatically and vastly reduce numbers of Chinese tourists visiting the island, Tsai has overseen steady growth in its high-tech economy and enacted social reforms, including making the island the only democracy in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage.
Reforms, including reductions in civil service pensions had sparked a backlash and Tsai had appeared vulnerable to a challenge from the pro-China Nationalist Party candidate. However, her support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in the face of an often-violent police response helped lift her poll figures. Many see China’s autocratic Communist Party as eroding Hong Kong’s civil liberties and Taiwanese voters have strongly rejected any moves toward political accommodation with Beijing.
Poll results released by the US-based Pew Research Centre last week found that 66 per cent of island residents view themselves as Taiwanese, 28 per cent as both Taiwanese and Chinese and 4 per cent as just Chinese. The telephone poll of 1562 people has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
Among respondents under 30, 83 per cent said they didn’t consider themselves Chinese.
Another 2.3 per cent of Taiwanese are members of indigenous groups who are not ethnically Chinese.
A former Japanese colony, Taiwan was handed to China in 1945 but split again from the mainland when Mao Zedong’s Communists swept to power on the mainland in 1949. The rival Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan, 160 kilometres off China’s east coast.