The strangest of weeks for a new leader

Taiwan opposition leader and president-elect Tsai Ing-wen reacts during an interview before their meeting for parliament reform in Taipei, Taiwan, 20 January 2016.Image copyright

The past seven days might be one of the most unusual first weeks in politics for any leader, even though Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen won’t take up her post until May.

It has involved a K-pop star, a mass cabinet resignation, a Facebook spam assault, Taiwan’s new “first family of cats”, and a veiled military warning from China.

Each of these controversies exposes the issues that could take the island on a very different path.

The K-pop controversy that laid bare a divide

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Chou Tzuyu is the only Taiwanese member of Twice, a popular Korean girl band

It seems like so long ago but election day, last Saturday, was when Taiwanese youth rallied behind Chou Tzuyu, the 16-year-old Taiwanese K-pop singer who was forced to apologise for showing the island’s flag on a Korean TV show.

Many believe the anger that prompted could have helped Ms Tsai, whose DPP party has traditionally favoured independence from China, which in turn sees the island as a province that must be reunited with the mainland.

Now Taiwanese celebrities who have called themselves Chinese, including Mando-pop singer Jay Chou, are under fire. Many simply want Chinese fans to identify with them and are probably only referring to their ethnic identity.

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Jay Chou is one of the biggest pop stars in the Chinese-speaking world

But this election has shown that obstacles remain despite growing contact and improved ties with mainland China. One recent survey suggested a majority of the island see themselves as Taiwanese.

Beijing will have to re-evaluate its strategy of winning over the Taiwanese with trade, tourism and economic perks. Analysts say it would do better to narrow the huge gap in the two sides’ political systems.

The Facebook trolls that started a conversation

Days after her victory, Chinese netizens began waging a war of words on Ms Tsai’s Facebook page.

Comments on the site went from 10,000 to 45,000 per day, as users weighed in criticising her pro-independence views.

Many posted the same Chinese slogans, including: “Honour to those who love the motherland, shame on those who harm the motherland.”

It may be a campaign orchestrated by the Chinese government, which normally blocks Facebook and is believed to employ an army of people to post comments online reflecting its policies.

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The series of Chinese Communist slogans are known as the “Eight Honours and Eight Shames”

However some posts seemed genuine.

One Chinese netizen Chen Jun-lin wrote: “Everything we do is to narrow the distance between each other’s heart. We reject any action on both sides to split the two sides, and Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.”

Ms Tsai simply replied to the comments with a photo post: “The greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their rights.”

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Facebook / Tsai Ing-wen

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Ms Tsai posted the response on Thursday on her Facebook page

It remains a fascinating insight into cross-strait views and some believe such open communication may, ironically, lead to increased understanding.

The military drill that ‘didn’t happen’

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State media widely reproduced the CCTV report online

One report on China’s state-owned CCTV channel this week said China’s military “recently” carried out live fire drills off the coast of Fujian province directly across from Taiwan.

But Taiwan’s defence ministry says the pictures were from exercises carried out last year and there were no recent drills.

Either way, it is a warning for Ms Tsai.

A mass resignation

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Premier Mao Chi-kuo (centre) resigned shortly after the presidential election

The mass resignation of Taiwan’s incumbent cabinet was expected after the election defeat.

But the next cabinet is being closely watched. Will Ms Tsai try to tap the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party’s experienced China negotiators to help maintain good ties with Beijing?

Analysts say her words and actions since winning have confirmed to China she’s pro-independence, but it recognises her as a pragmatic politician.

Beijing’s “wait and see” grace period for Ms Tsai is expected to end by the time she makes her inaugural address, and it is unlikely to bend on China’s territorial claims.

Jockeying for friends

Ms Tsai meanwhile seems to be trying to shore up Taiwan’s alliances and boost trade with its most powerful allies the United States and Japan, to minimise Taiwan’s economic dependence on China and seek security protection.

She met representatives from both countries this week and sent the DPP’s secretary-general Joseph Wu to the US.

While she has pledged to maintain the status quo and not provoke China, some US officials have said they want Taiwan to be an integral part of America’s Asian security strategy.

China will view this as an attempt by Washington to use Taiwan to counterbalance its weight in the South China Sea dispute, an alliance that could lead to an even harder stance from Beijing.

A parliament without fights, but a heavy metal singer instead

Media captionSinger Freddy Lim is running for MP in Taiwan’s elections

Taiwan’s parliament is notorious for its shoe-throwing, water splashing and scuffles.

But now that Ms Tsai’s party won a majority of the seats for the first time in history, it will be able to push through significant reforms without getting physical.

Its priority will be to seize the assets of the KMT, believed to have been taken when it fled to Taiwan at the end of China’s civil war and began ruling the island.

That could reduce the century-old party, one of the world’s richest and once most powerful, to a much less influential force.

The parliament will also try to amend the constitution to make it easier for referendums to be held, which means the issue of independence may one day be decided by the Taiwanese people.

Regardless, newly elected legislator heavy metal singer Freddy Lim could add a new flavour to parliament.

The first family of cats

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Ms Tsai posted pictures of herself with her cats on her Facebook page, saying: “What I’m happiest about is that I finally have some time to play with Cookie and A-Tsai.”

Attention has also turned to Taiwan’s new “first family” as they are being dubbed: Ms Tsai and her two cats Cookie and A-Tsai.

Ms Tsai found time to post more pictures of them this week. Cookie was rescued after a typhoon by a DPP member and given to Ms Tsai. Ms. Tsai came across A-Tsai in a pineapple field and the farmer convinced her to take him home.

It’s an unusual so-called “first family”, but so then was the island’s first week after a landmark poll.

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