Outlook 2017 East Asia: Taiwan leader faces major tests on foreign, home fronts

Ms Tsai must deal with rising tensions with China, while facing growing discontent among politicians and voters at home, among other things.
Ms Tsai must deal with rising tensions with China, while facing growing discontent among politicians and voters at home, among other things.PHOTO: REUTERS

This is the first of a five-part series looking at the key events and issues facing the world in 2017. Today, The Straits Times looks at East Asia and the many challenges the region faces in the coming months.

TAIPEI • Nearly a year after her euphoric election victory, President Tsai Ing-wen is facing sobering times ahead.

Since she took office in May, she has faced one crisis after another.

One major challenge is cross-strait relations, which turned chilly after Ms Tsai, 59, did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus in her inauguration speech. It is a tacit agreement that there is only one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that means.

With President-elect Donald Trump heading to the White House next month, things look even more uncertain. His recent actions - tough rhetoric against China, an unprecedented phone call with Ms Tsai, and the questioning of the "one China" policy - have only irritated the Chinese and stoked tensions across the Strait.

Taiwan, in the meantime, has had to deal with an angry China, including the imposition of limits on the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, attempts to reduce the island's presence in international forums and, most recently, West African nation Sao Tome and Principe switching allegiance to Beijing.

 

Things do not look any rosier at home, with Ms Tsai facing growing discontent among politicians and voters.

Having launched an ambitious raft of reforms, including labour reforms, she finds that many of them are now being stalled in political gridlock.

She is likely to struggle to push through unpopular pension reforms and a historic, though controversial, same-sex marriage Bill in the coming months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan leader faces major tests on foreign, home fronts'. Print Edition | Subscribe