President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) delivered her second inaugural address yesterday morning, marking the start of her second term. Tsai is beginning her new term on a high, despite facing considerable challenges — which are two sides of the same coin, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many ways, the pandemic has strengthened her hand coming into the second term, just as it has vindicated her government’s policies of trying to extricate Taiwan from China’s economy and sphere of influence.
Her government has won plaudits around the world for its effective response to the coronavirus outbreak. The nation feels more united at this moment than it has for a long time.
The speech was the perfect opportunity for her to express her gratitude for those who had worked to ensure that the government’s response was a success, and she thanked the public, who trusted the government, stood patiently in line to purchase masks when they were in short supply, and self-isolated or allowed themselves to be quarantined to comply with government regulations.
In short, she thanked the nation for exemplifying the civic values of a citizenry standing united to achieve one goal.
“This,” she said, “is what solidarity feels like.”
The address was also an opportunity for Tsai to reiterate indirect positives from the pandemic, such as Taiwan’s growing international profile and acclaim through its exemplary response and “mask diplomacy” — a chance to make itself distinct from China in the eyes of the international community.
Reducing dependence on the Chinese market is an objective of the government’s New Southbound Policy. If the pandemic has hampered this policy, the renewed scrutiny it has placed on the codependence of supply chains and certain major trading partners has revealed the wisdom of developing partnerships with other nations in the region.
One of the challenges that Tsai specified in her speech was the accelerated reorganization of supply chains internationally, which is a trend to be followed by not only Taiwan, but other nations worldwide.
The argument made by Tsai’s administration, that Taiwan needs self-sufficient, economically independent and diverse supply chains, has received a major boost — not only as a winning formula for this nation, but for the whole world.
While US President Donald Trump is threatening to move supply chains out of China, many African nations appear to be regretting their reliance on China through their involvement in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. This dependence is not only due to the huge amount of Chinese investment and subsequent debt, but a reliance on the exports of natural resources to China, which have been severely affected by the closure of factories and ports due to the pandemic.
Tsai also spoke about her government’s plans for reshaping Taiwan and its economy over the next four years.
While she specifically mentioned China in the sections on national security, Beijing was also a shadow lurking in the background throughout most of the address, many times through omission.
For example, when Tsai discussed participation in the international community, she promised to bolster ties with the US, Japan, Europe and other “like-minded countries.”
All in all, the address was an invitation for Taiwanese to be proud of their achievements over the past 70 years, a call for unity and a prospectus for the next four years — building a distinctly Taiwanese identity and future.
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