By Claire Zillman
December 5, 2016

Much of the world likely got a formal introduction to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen following her ground-breaking call with President-elect Donald Trump on Friday. Their chat made Trump the first U.S. president or president-elect to speak with Taiwan’s counterpart since 1979. (The U.S. has long recognized the “One China” policy, which considers Beijing the seat of China’s government.)

There are two portraits circulating of Taiwan’s first female president. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province, has drawn the first. In Tsai’s inauguration address in May, she provoked Beijing by referring to Taiwan as a “country” and refusing to embrace the “one China” outlook. Beijing snapped back, calling her political style and strategy “emotional, personalized, and extreme.” It attributed this demeanor to Tsai’s status as “a single female politician.” China’s foreign minister on Saturday said that the communication between Trump and Tsai was the result of a “little trick” by Taiwan—a characterization that fits with the image Beijing previously painted of the Taiwanese leader.

Meanwhile, a leaked U.S. diplomatic dispatch in 2008 called Tsai anything but a revolutionary. It said the graduate of the London School of Economics has a “moderate,” “low-key,” and “soft spoken” personality that’s likely to “disarm her competitors,” though it did warn that she’s not to be underestimated. During her campaign for president, Tsai developed a reputation at home as a policy wonk who likes to stay in, drink red wine, and spend time with her two cats.

It remains unclear whether the Tsai-Trump call was a blatant rejection of protocol on Trump’s part or just a naive mistake. Regardless, it appears Taiwan will be a surprise flashpoint in U.S.-China relations during the Trump administration, so Tsai will likely have plenty of opportunities to refine her image on the world stage.



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