Taiwan's New President Vows 'New Era' of Democracy

china-tsai-may202016.jpg DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen is sworn in as Taiwan's new president, May 20, 2016.
Photo provided by Taiwan presidential office

Taiwan swore in its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, who pledged to strengthen the island's democracy and keep the peace with Beijing, which banned its state-run media from covering the event.

Tsai, who heads the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the traditional home of supporters of formal independence for Taiwan, pledged in her inaugural address to build a "united democracy that is not hijacked by ideology," in an apparent reference to her predecessor's close ties with the Chinese Communist Party ruling on the mainland.

She also promised a "new era" in Taiwan politics, which has recently been rocked by fears that ever-closer economic ties with China could undermine the island's democracy.

"Today, tomorrow, and on every day to come, we shall all vow to be a Taiwanese who safeguards democracy, freedom, and this country," Tsai said.

Across the Taiwan Strait, the communist government banned websites from from publishing anything linked to Tsai's inauguration that wasn't produced by high-ranking, party-run media organizations, according to a directive leaked to the U.S.-based China Digital Times.

"Internet audio-visual program service providers must not live broadcast, publish, or reuse programming that does not come from the above-mentioned sources," the May 17 directive from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said.

Online activist Lai Rifu said he wasn't surprised by the restrictions.

"I think this sort of thing is pretty normal right now," Lai said. "They have to delete this stuff, because she will definitely bring up topics like freedom and democracy in her inaugural speech."

A separate identity

Tsai's speech mentioned landmark 1992 peace talks between Chinese and Taiwan officials, but didn't mention the "1992 consensus," which agreed that both sides would agree to the idea that there is "one China," while being left free to interpret this in their own manner.

Taiwan's then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist party, which represented the island at those talks, regarded itself as the legitimate rulers of a post-1911 Republic of China that had been "temporarily" relocated to Taiwan since it lost the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

But Tsai was voted into power on a platform that at the very least affirms the island's separate identity from mainland China, which might develop into formal independence if broad enough political support is found.

Beijing has stepped up political pressure in recent weeks, insisting on claiming dozens of Taiwan passport-holders as its own citizens when they faced deportation as criminal suspects.

Carrying on a long tradition of military saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) staged beach-landing military exercises on the day of Tsai's inauguration, the Global Times newspaper reported.

Beijing also warned Tsai that peace would be "impossible" if she made any moves towards formal, rather than de facto, independence.

'Menace to peace'

State news agency Xinhua quoted Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office as saying that China sees any push for Taiwan independence as "the biggest menace to peace across the Taiwan Strait."

And Chinese officials said Tsai's speech had only given an "incomplete answer" to Beijing's demand that she recognize the "one China" consensus.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing that the "one China" policy has worked well to keep the peace so far.

"Regardless of what internal changes take place within Taiwan, China will uphold the one China principle and oppose Taiwanese independence," Hua said.

Beijing-based dissident and political analyst Zha Jianguo said he understands why Tsai had stopped short of endorsing the "one China" policy.

"She can't afford to endorse it ... because her interpretation of what it means is different, which means it's not really a consensus," Zha said.

"The Chinese government, in trying to foist this consensus [on Taiwan], is also trying to enforce its hidden implication, which is that the People's Republic of China has the sole legitimate claim over all of China."

A model for China

Zha said many Chinese dissidents look to Taiwan as an example of what a democratic China might look like.

"The succession of power that has taken place in Taiwan today is a model for mainland China, because they [eventually] allowed their opposition factions to exist legally. They allow a multi-party system to engage in fair competition," he said.

"The military are part of the apparatus of the state [not of any party], and the people have the right to elect their national leaders."

He said Chinese netizens were still discussing Taiwan's new president on social media, in spite of the censorship of Tsai's inauguration speech on China's tightly controlled Internet.

"Tsai Ing-wen's speech was deleted only a few minutes after it was posted [online in China]," Zha said. "But there was a lot of comment online today, including surprise, admiration, respect, and envy, because this reflects on mainland China."

"These voices [in China] are very strong, and the Chinese government is very scared about that, and very sensitive about it," he said.

Activists detained

Police in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing rounded up seven activists who had planned to celebrate Tsai's inauguration and took them on a forced "vacation" outside the city, they told RFA on Friday.

Wang Chenghua, Xue Renyi, Xu Duo, Yi Xiangcheng, Luo Yaling, and Yang Xiaodong were all taken on a trip to the city's Nanshan Park area, one of them told RFA.

"The state security police have restricted the freedom of some Chongqing residents because of the inauguration of the Taiwan president," the activist said.

"The residents all arrived in Nanshan yesterday and are staying there overnight."

Taiwanese, not Chinese

Tsai takes office on the back of a landslide victory in January over her KMT predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, who had come under increasing fire over plans for closer economic and trade ties with China.

Tsai, who took around 56 percent of the vote, also saw her mandate bolstered further by an unprecedented DPP victory in elections to the island's parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Repeated polls have shown that many of Taiwan's 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence.

Taiwan was governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and since 1949, and has never been part of communist China.

Beijing has said it is willing to deal with any party in Taiwan, as long as they recognize both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China and don't allow the island to move towards independence.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Miao Chiu-jyu, Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kwang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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