Lai Ching-te: Taiwan’s new president calls on China to stop “intimidation” after being sworn in


Taiwan President Lai Ching-tei called on Beijing to stop its intimidation of the democratic island after he was sworn in as president on Monday, marking the start of a historic third consecutive term for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which has championed democracy. Facing years of growing threats from an authoritarian China.

Lai, 64, a doctor and former vice president, was inaugurated alongside new Vice President Hsiao Pi-chim, who recently served as Taiwan’s top envoy to the United States.

Beijing feels open hatred for both leaders and their party because of their advocacy for Taiwan’s sovereignty. China’s ruling Communist Party says the self-governing democracy is part of its territory, although it has never controlled it, and has vowed to seize the island by force if necessary.

Lai used his 30-minute inaugural address to broadcast a message of peace and declare that “the glorious era of democracy in Taiwan has arrived,” describing the island as an “important link” in a “global chain of democracies,” while emphasizing the determination to defend its sovereignty.

“The future of the Republic of China Taiwan will be decided by its 23 million people. The future we decide is not only the future of our nation, but the future of the world,” Lai said, using Taiwan’s official name.

Lai takes over from DPP predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, who boosted the island’s international profile and recognition during her eight years in office. Tsai, Taiwan’s first female president, was unable to run again due to term limits.

Lai emerged victorious over his rivals in the opposition Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party in the January elections, which were fought over a mix of livelihood issues as well as the thorny question of how to deal with its giant one-party state neighbor. China, which under leader Xi Jinping has become more powerful and aggressive.

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Voters then ignored Beijing’s warnings that re-electing the DPP would increase the risk of conflict. The Democratic Progressive Party sees Taiwan as a de facto sovereign state that must strengthen defenses against China’s threats and deepen relations with democratic countries.

In his inauguration speech, Lai called on China to “stop political and military intimidation against Taiwan, share global responsibility with Taiwan in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the greater region, and ensure the world’s freedom from these threats.” Fear of war.”

Lai, a soft-spoken veteran politician, comes from a more extreme wing of the Democratic Progressive Party and was once an outspoken supporter of Taiwan independence – a red line for Beijing.

Although his views have since softened, China has never forgiven him for comments he made six years ago in which he described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence.”

Lai has now said he prefers the status quo, declaring that “Taiwan is already an independent, sovereign country” so “there is no plan or need” to declare independence, in a deliberately subtle stance that mimics the position espoused by the outgoing Tsai.

When asked about Lai’s inauguration at a regular press conference on Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “Taiwan independence is a dead end. No matter what pretext or slogan one uses, promoting Taiwan independence and secession is doomed to failure.”

Lai’s inauguration was attended by national leaders from a handful of countries with which Taiwan still maintains formal diplomatic relations, several former US officials, and lawmakers from other countries, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered his congratulations to Lai and “the people of Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of their strong and resilient democratic system.”

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“We look forward to working with President Lai and across the political spectrum in Taiwan to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our long-standing informal relationship, and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Blinken said.

Lai takes office during a particularly contentious period between Taiwan and China, which in recent years has intensified diplomatic, economic and military pressure on the self-ruled democratic nation, with Taiwan’s leaders tightening informal ties with Washington.

In his inauguration speech, Lai said he hoped China would “face up to the reality of the existence of the Republic of China, respect the choices of the people of Taiwan,” and “cooperate with the legitimate government chosen by the people of Taiwan.”

He called for resuming tourism on a mutual basis and enrolling degree students in Taiwanese institutions as steps to “seek peace and mutual prosperity.”

But the new president also warned against harboring illusions, even as Taiwan pursues “ideals of peace.”

“As long as China refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan, all of us in Taiwan must understand that even if we accept China’s position in its entirety and give up our sovereignty, China’s ambition to annex Taiwan will not simply disappear,” Lai said.

Beijing has sought to portray Lai as an instigator of conflict, and repeatedly portrayed elections earlier this year as a choice between “peace and war.”

On Monday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office echoed that rhetoric, criticizing the “Taiwan region leader” as “sending dangerous signals by seeking independence, provocations, and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Xi has positioned “reunification” with Taiwan as a key part of his goal of achieving China’s “natural rejuvenation.” But under his forceful tactics during more than a decade in power, public opinion in Taiwan has turned decisively away from China. Less than 10% now support immediate or final unification less than 3% Primarily identifying as Chinese.

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The majority of Taiwanese want to maintain the status quo and show no desire to be ruled by Beijing.

Beijing has cut off official communications with Taipei since Tsai took office. In contrast to the opposition Kuomintang, Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party have refused to endorse the so-called “1992 consensus” that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to “one China,” but with different interpretations of what that means. Beijing considers the implicit agreement a precondition for dialogue.

Official contacts between Beijing and Taipei are unlikely to resume once Lai takes office – as China has repeatedly rebuked his offer of talks and condemned him as a dangerous separatist.

Lai is also set to face challenges – and scrutiny – in pushing his Taiwan agenda in Parliament during his term.

Unlike his predecessor, Lai will not enjoy a parliamentary majority in the next four years. In the January elections, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party won only 51 seats out of 113.

These challenges came to light last Friday, when Taiwanese lawmakers’ disagreements over new and controversial reform bills erupted into a brawl on the parliament floor — a chaotic display that saw some lawmakers jump over tables and drag their colleagues to the floor, with a few members being sent to the hospital.

In his speech, Lai said that “the lack of an absolute majority means that the ruling and opposition parties are now able to share their ideas, and that we will face the challenges facing the nation as one team.”

But he also called for cooperation so that Taiwan can “continue on a stable path.”

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