William Lai Ching-te to continue Tsai Ing-wen’s legacy

William Lai

19th May 2024 – (Taipei) As Taiwan transitions its leadership, President-elect William Lai Ching-te is set to inherit not only the responsibilities of the highest office but also the intricate balance of international relations shaped by outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen. After serving the maximum two terms, Tsai is passing the baton to Lai in a symbolic gesture captured in a poignant campaign advertisement, underscoring continuity in governance and vision.

Tsai, Taiwan’s first female president, leaves behind a legacy marked by significant strides in both domestic reforms and foreign diplomacy. Her tenure was distinguished by the defence of Taiwan’s sovereignty against increasing pressures from China, which regards the island as part of its territory. Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus, which views Taiwan within the “One China” framework, has been a cornerstone of her administration, aligning Taiwan closer to democratic nations and particularly strengthening unofficial ties with the United States.

Under Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan saw the legalization of same-sex marriage, making it the first in Asia to do so, and navigated through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with notable early success. Moreover, her administration took bold steps in military modernization, including the initiation of a $16 billion indigenous submarine program, and extended military conscription to bolster national defence.

However, Tsai’s domestic policies have been met with mixed reactions. Her pension and labor reforms sparked controversy, and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), saw significant losses in local elections. Despite these challenges, Tsai managed to maintain high approval ratings, significantly higher than her predecessor, reflecting a shift in Taiwanese identity more firmly towards independence from China.

Lai Ching-te, who takes office next Monday, is expected to advance Tsai’s policies but faces his own set of challenges. Having once described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence,” Lai has moderated his stance, now advocating for maintaining the status quo with China and openness to dialogue. His approach will be crucial as he navigates the complexities of Taiwan’s relations with both the U.S. and China, especially amid potential shifts in U.S. policy depending on future administrations.

The DPP’s loss of majority in the legislature could complicate Lai’s efforts to push through significant legislation, including national defense budgets which are vital for continuing Tsai’s military enhancements. Lai’s leadership will also be tested on the domestic front, where he will need to address the grievances that led to the DPP’s poor performance in recent elections.