Su Tseng-chang, 71, a former chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was chosen to replace William Lai after the party suffered a bruising defeat in local elections last November.
Lai formally resigned earlier Friday, along with the entire Cabinet, taking responsibility for the party’s losses. Tsai also resigned as DPP leader following the elections, though she remains president.
“Premier Su has three strengths that Taiwan needs at the moment: experience, vigor and the ability to execute (policies),” she said in a speech at the Presidential Palace Friday.
Tsai is facing mounting pressure both at home — where her progressive reform agenda has faced setbacks — and from across the Taiwan Strait.
Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Taiwan to reject moves towards formal independence and embrace “peaceful reunification” with his country, suggesting the island adopt the concept of “one country, two systems” as used in Hong Kong when China regained sovereignty over the city from the UK in 1997.
While his speech sounded more conciliatory than previously, Xi did not rule out using military force to take Taiwan. In the past he has vowed not to cede “a single inch of our motherland,” and increased military drills around the self-ruled and democratic island of 23 million people.
Tsai rejected Xi’s “one country, two systems” suggestion outright, and on Friday she emphasized that Taiwan’s priorities in 2019 include protecting its democracy and safeguarding its sovereignty, in addition to improving people’s livelihoods.
She acknowledged the challenges ahead as Taiwan, whose economy is closely linked to that of China, tackles the fallout of the trade war between Washington and Beijing, as well as renewed fears of Xi’s hardline stance.
China and Taiwan — officially the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, respectively — split in 1949 following the Communist victory on the mainland after a bloody civil war.
They have been governed separately ever since although a shared cultural and linguistic heritage largely endures, with Mandarin the official language in both places.