By J.R. Wu
TAIPEI, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Taiwan president-elect Tsai Ing-wen, more don than politician and twice defeated at the polls before Saturday's success, will need all her wits about her as she takes over the reins of potentially one of Asia's most volatile flashpoints.
China, deeply suspicious of her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), still points hundreds of missiles at the self-ruled island, decades after losing Nationalists fled from Mao Zedong's Communists to Taiwan in the Chinese civil war.
Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back what it regards a renegade province.
"The election is over. All the frictions and disputes from the election process should also stop," Tsai said in her victory speech. "I will go forward with 23 million people and together defeat this country's plight. We will not be divided because of the election, but will be united because of democracy."
Tsai, who lost a run for mayor in 2010 and the presidency in 2012, won with about 56 percent of the votes and led the DPP to their biggest ever victory in parliamentary polls.
Tsai becomes the first woman president of Taiwan, a beacon of democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, and one of the most prominent female leaders since Qing dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi.
A polished English-speaker, hers is a political life of firsts.
She was the first woman named party chief for the DPP in 2008. She was the first woman named as Taiwan's main China affairs minister in 2000.
"As I was growing up, I never thought about this thing of becoming president," Tsai said in a speech to a women's group last August. "I can swear that I was never determined to become president."
Tsai, 59, 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 around 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.
In 2008, the DPP lost power after eight years of tumultuous rule under Chen Shui-bian, who ultimately angered China and frustrated Washington as the island's ties with its giant neighbour were put on ice.
Tsai also risks antagonising China if she attempts to forcefully assert Taiwan's sovereignty and reverses eight years of warming China ties under incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalists.
"We want to once again tell the international community: the values of democracy are already deeply in the blood of the people of Taiwan," Tsai said.
"The democratic way of life is what 23 million people will forever insist on."
(Additional reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Nick Macfie)