As a British-educated admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Tsai Ing-wen, who studied in London, is the woman set to become leader of China’s fierce rival Taiwan was always likely to be regarded with suspicion by Beijing’s Communist Party apparatus. The fact that she is head of a party dedicated to promoting the island’s independence from the Chinese mainland only makes matters worse.
Beijing duly met expectations yesterday by firing a warning shot across the bows of Tsai Ing-wen, favourite to become first woman leader of Taiwan - the first woman leader, in fact, in the modern Chinese world. Zhang Zhijun, China's minister responsible for Taiwan affairs, warned it would be “unswerving and firm as a rock” in the face of threats to its sovereignty over the island. "Let's not regret the value of peace and development after we've lost it," he said, in a New Year’s message. Ms Tsai, an academic by background, is an unusual arrival in the conservative and male-dominated world of Far East Asian politics. But polls put her Democratic Progressive Party well in the lead for the presidential election due to take place in two weeks’ time.
Her sex may not officially be as important to Beijing as her politics - the DPP, unlike the ruling Kuomintang, believes Taiwan would be better off declaring the island to be an independent country rather than maintaining the international community’s polite fiction that it is an integral part of China.