Tsai Ing-wen has become Taiwan’s first female president after winning the island’s election on January 16.
The 59-year-old leads the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that wants independence from China.
In her victory speech, Tsai Ing-wen vowed to preserve the status quo in relations with China, adding Beijing must respect Taiwan’s democracy and both sides must ensure there are no provocations.
China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province – which it has threatened to take back by force if necessary – and is bound to be watching the election closely.
January 16 polls come just months after a historic meeting between the leaders of the two sides, the first in more than 60 years when outgoing Kuomintang (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in November for talks that were seen as largely symbolic.
This is the second-ever victory for the DPP.
The first was by pro-independence advocate Chen Shui-bian – during his time as president between 2000 and 2008 tensions escalated with China.
Tsai Ing-wen has not made her stance clear. A former scholar, she has said she wants to “maintain [the] status quo” with China.
However, opponents say relations will deteriorate as she does not recognize the “one China” policy. She became chairwoman of the DPP in 2008, after it saw a string of corruption scandals.
Tsai Ing-wen lost a presidential bid in 2012 but has subsequently led the party to regional election victories. She has won increased support from the public partly because of widespread dissatisfaction over the KMT and Ma Ying-jeou’s handling of the economy and widening wealth gap.
Eric Chu, 54, is the mayor of New Taipei City and stepped up to become chairman of the party in October. The KMT is at risk of losing its majority in the legislature for the first time in history.
The former accounting professor is popular with young people in the party, but has not been able to change public opinion that is increasingly unhappy with the party’s friendly stance towards China and the island’s economic travails.
In 2014, hundreds of students occupied the parliament in the largest show of anti-Chinese sentiment on the island for years. Labeled the Sunflower Movement, protesters demanded more transparency in trade pacts negotiated with China.
Taiwan’s election has an unlikely third main protagonist – 16-year-old Chou Tzuyu of South Korean girl band Twice.
The Taiwanese singer has appeared in a video bowing and apologizing after being seen waving a Taiwan flag – in a row that has dominated local media coverage.
Chou Tzuyu said she felt “proud to be Chinese” and said there was “only one China” – but many on the island felt she had been coerced into saying sorry.
Presidential frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen insisted holding a Taiwan flag was “a legitimate expression of national identity”, however Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the row was being exploited to “stir up feelings”.