When Tsai Ing-wen swept to power in 2016, she was dismissed as a dull bureaucrat and ridiculed as a “cat lady” - a swipe at her for being middle-aged and unmarried. She embraced the image, appearing on magazine covers holding Xiang Xiang in her arms. Soon, her supporters adopted a new sobriquet: Taiwan’s Iron Cat Lady.

In Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan found an unlikely champion. During her two terms, she carefully yet confidently reset the relationship with Beijing, which has claimed the independently governed island as its own for 75 years.

She stood up to an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping; she held on to a vital US alliance under Donald Trump and buttressed it under Joe Biden. At home, she expanded the island’s defence and legalised same-sex marriage, the latter a first for Asia.

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    During her two terms, she carefully yet confidently reset the relationship with Beijing, which has claimed the independently governed island as its own for 75 years.She stood up to an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive China under Xi Jinping; she held on to a vital US alliance under Donald Trump and buttressed it under Joe Biden.

    When President Ma refused to back down, they occupied parliament.Two years later Tsai Ing-wen was elected on a very different calculus: that the only language Beijing understands is strength.Now, as she prepares to step down, she says she has been vindicated: “China has become so aggressive and assertive.”

    Earlier this week, while Xi Jinping was getting ready to welcome Vladimir Putin in Beijing, Tsai Ing-wen hosted a drag performance by Taiwanese-American Nymphia Ward.

    Back then, if you were found to be homosexual during your military service you could get thrown in jail or a psychiatric ward.That changed but Tsai Ing-wen’s government went further than any in Asia when it pushed through legislation legalising same-sex marriage in 2019.

    This is why we have been able to move from an authoritarian age to democracy.”And that is why she hopes Taiwan’s most important alliance – with the world’s most powerful country and democracy - will last no matter who makes it to the White House after November.

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