President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won re-election on January 11, 2020, with domestic and foreign expectations for Taiwan to be stronger in the interests of its people. A stronger Taiwan also enables it to contribute as an important economic and security partner of the United States and other democracies. Contrary to conventional wisdom that her second inauguration on May 20 will bring changes to personnel, it behooves Tsai to decide on Taiwan’s national security leadership much sooner. This imperative to have these key officials in place ahead of her second term has been urgent even before the crash of a helicopter on January 2 that took the life of the Chief of General Staff. What are expectations of Taiwan?
Leadership for National Security
It would be advantageous if Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan) President Tsai names key officials (incumbent or new) ahead of the official start of her second term, without waiting for her inauguration in May.
Tsai can be expected to improve strategic communication to counter China’s challenges, not waiting until her second inaugural address. Advisors have encouraged her to engage more with the media. On the same day that Tsai won re-election and the DPP maintained its majority in the legislature, she spoke to foreign media reporting on the elections and referred to the country’s formal name. Tsai conveyed the voters’ confidence in the DPP’s commitment to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait without compromising national interests. She said, “Taiwan is showing the world how much we cherish our free, democratic way of life, and how much we cherish our nation: the Republic of China (Taiwan).”
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo congratulated Tsai and Taiwan’s people for showing the strength of their democracy. The message expressed appreciation, first, for Taiwan’s strong partnership with the United States, and second, for Tsai’s commitment to cross-Strait stability. The message did not urge Tsai to resume cross-Strait talks, implicitly recognizing that the onus is on Beijing to work with Taipei to improve ties. A year ago, the NSC explicitly expressed this viewpoint in contrast to the CCP’s political warfare and typical media narratives that blame Taiwan or Tsai, after Xi read a speech that threatened force.
In addition to leveraging the results of the elections, Taiwan’s message can draw upon the people’s overwhelming preferences. According to polling data, the MAC reported in August 2019 that 84 percent oppose the CCP’s insistence on “one country, two systems.” Moreover, the MAC reported in October that 87.4 percent choose the cross-Strait status quo (whether with a decision later, indefinite situation, independence later, or unification later), while only 6.0 percent seek independence and 1.4 percent seek unification as soon as possible.