TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s premier tendered his resignation on Monday, raising the possibility of changes in the island’s troubled relationship with mainland China.
The Presidential Office said on its website that President Tsai Ing-wen reluctantly accepted Lin Chuan’s decision to resign after more than a year in office.
Tsai is to announce a successor on Tuesday, with the official Central News Agency saying her pick will be William Lai, mayor of the southern city of Tainan.
Though described as a supporter of Taiwanese independence, Lai suggested seeking common ground with China earlier in the year and said the ruling Democratic Progressive Party should approach Beijing with confidence.
China cut off contacts with Tsai’s government more than a year ago because of her refusal to endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan is a part of China. The sides separated amid civil war in 1949 and China continues to threaten force to gain control over the island of 23 million people.
Government surveys since 2014 have found at least 70 percent of Taiwanese prefer autonomy from the Communist government in Beijing.
Tsai’s popularity rating dipped to 33 percent in June partly over perceptions she had failed to manage foreign relations under pressure from China, which uses its economic power and global diplomatic clout to marginalize the island. Taiwan has lost two diplomatic allies to China in Tsai’s term to date.
At the same time, China is Taiwan’s top trading partner, with imports and exports totaling $118 billion last year and billions of dollars invested by Taiwanese in the mainland since the 1990s.
Tainan city news department director Hsu Shu-fen declined to say whether Lai wanted the premier’s job, calling word about his appointment “news that hasn’t taken place yet.”
Lin had suffered from low popularity, with the independent Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation putting his approval rating at 28.7 percent in May. Taiwan’s high-tech, export-driven economy has suffered in recent years from low growth and stagnant wages, particularly among young people.
Lin said at a news conference on Monday that he had asked the president in June to replace him before the 2018 elections so he could avoid getting involved in political issues.
“These aren’t things that fall within my interests,” he said.
Lin was hired as a “transitional figure” and had done all he could given his limited political contacts, said Raymond Wu, managing director of Taipei-based political risk consultancy e-telligence. He oversaw pension reform, despite staunch opposition from government employees, and saw through the approval this year of a $13.9 billion plan to build infrastructure such as commuter railways and irrigation projects.
“He’s not really all that well connected in the Democratic Progressive Party,” Wu said. “He has fulfilled what he needed to get done.”