Taipei: Taiwan`s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, has a reputation as a patient, canny negotiator and she`ll need those skills as she takes responsibility for what is potentially one of Asia`s most dangerous flashpoints.
Tsai, 59, leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is being sworn in on Friday as the first woman president of Taiwan, a beacon of democracy off the coast of Communist Party-ruled China.
Beijing has been watching warily since she won a January election and has warned her it will brook no hint of a move towards independence of an island it has regarded as a wayward province since China`s nationalists fled there after Mao Zedong`s Communists` civil war victory in 1949.
Tsai has said she will maintain the status quo with the mainland but has stopped short of endorsing its cherished "one China" principle, which allows the Communists to say they rule all of China, including Taiwan.
Those in Tsai`s inner circle speak of a steely-minded, cautious individual with a firm grasp of detail and a pragmatic long-term view.
When Tsai was vice premier in 2007, she took part in a mock drill about an economic crisis with China, said York Chen, who designed the exercise to test Taiwan`s leadership in crisis.
It took Tsai 40 minutes to broker a consensus among cabinet officials, including those for economics, the central bank and China policy. She quietly jotted notes for 20 more minutes before explaining her plan to the president.
"She was extraordinarily capable," said Chen, who last week was named an incoming deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council, which reports directly to the president.
In biographies, two written by her and one semi-authorised, a picture emerges of Tsai as a negotiator unwilling to score quick points, or concede too much.
A polished English-speaker, hers has been a political life of firsts.
She was the first woman to become chief of the DPP in 2008. She was the first woman named as Taiwan`s main China affairs minister in 2000.
Tsai studied law and economics at the most prestigious universities in Taiwan, the United States and Britain, and hails from Pingtung, deep in Taiwan`s heavily pro-independence south.
She returned to Taiwan in the mid-1980s to spend the next decade and a half negotiating for the island`s entry into the World Trade Organisation - a role that pitted her brains against international experts as Taiwan, recognised as a country by only a handful of others, fought for its diplomatic life.
Chinese state media and its agency handling Taiwan affairs have bemoaned "turbulent" ties and accused the DPP of "destroying bridges" after eight years of warming relations under out-going President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalists.
Tsai has not risen to the tough talk but has calmly insisted democratic principles will rule Taipei`s ties with Beijing while reiterating her government will keep the peace and forge a consistent, predictable and sustainable relationship.