Lai Ching-te: Taiwan’s new president calls on China to end its ‘intimidation’ after taking oath


Taiwan President Lai Ching-te 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 Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in power, which defends democracy. facing years of growing threats from an authoritarian China.

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

Both leaders and their party are openly hated by Beijing for defending Taiwan’s sovereignty. China’s ruling Communist Party says autonomous democracy is part of its territory, even though it has never controlled it, and has vowed to take the island, by force if necessary.

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

“The future of the Republic of China on 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 succeeds his DPP predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, who boosted the island’s status and international 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 from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party in January’s elections, which were fought over a mix of livelihood issues as well as the thorny question of how to deal with with its giant one-party neighbor. , China, which, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has become more powerful and more bellicose.

Then voters ignored warnings from Beijing that re-electing the DPP would increase the risk of conflict. The DPP believes that Taiwan is a de facto sovereign nation that should strengthen its defenses against Chinese threats and deepen its relations with democratic countries.

In his inaugural speech, Lai called on China “to cease its political and military intimidation against Taiwan, to share with Taiwan the global responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as in the region as a whole.” , and to ensure that the world is free from the fear of war. »

A soft-spoken political veteran, Lai hails from a more radical wing of the DPP 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 his comments six years ago, in which he described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence.”

Lai has now said he favors the current status quo, proclaiming that “Taiwan is already an independent sovereign country” so there is “no plan or need” to declare independence, in a deliberately nuanced stance that imitates that adopted by the outgoing Tsai.

Asked about Lai’s inauguration at a regular news briefing Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “Taiwan independence is a dead end.” Regardless of the pretext or banner used, promoting Taiwan’s independence and secession is doomed to failure.

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

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai and “the people of Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of its robust and resilient democratic system.”

“We look forward to working with President Lai and across Taiwan’s political spectrum to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our long-standing informal relations, and maintain cross-Strait peace and stability.” of Taiwan,” 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-governing democracy as Taiwan’s leaders strengthened informal ties with Washington.

In his inaugural speech, Lai said he hoped China would “face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China, respect the choices of the people of Taiwan” and “engage in cooperation with the government law chosen by the people of Taiwan.

He called for the resumption of tourism on a reciprocal basis and the enrollment of graduate students in Taiwanese institutions as measures to “pursue peace and mutual prosperity.”

But the new president also warned against any illusions, even if Taiwan pursues “the 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 the entire Chinese position and renounce our sovereignty, China’s ambition to annexing Taiwan won’t just disappear,” Laï said.

Beijing has sought to portray Lai as inciting conflict, repeatedly describing elections earlier this year as a choice between “peace and war.”

On Monday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office reiterated this rhetoric, accusing “the leader of the Taiwan region” of “sending dangerous signals of seeking independence, provocations and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Xi has placed “reunification” with Taiwan as a key part of his goal of achieving China’s “natural rejuvenation.” But under the effect of the heavy-handed tactics of more than a decade in power, Taiwanese public opinion has resolutely distanced itself from China. Less than 10% now support immediate or eventual unification, and less than 3% identify primarily as Chinese.

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

Beijing has cut off all official contact with Taipei since Tsai took office. Unlike the opposition KMT, Tsai and the DPP have refused to endorse the so-called “1992 consensus” that Taiwan and the mainland belong to “one China”, but with different interpretations of what that means. Beijing, which considers tacit agreement a precondition for dialogue.

Official communications between Beijing and Taipei are unlikely to resume once Lai takes office – with China repeatedly rejecting his offer of talks and denouncing him as a dangerous separatist.

Lai will also face challenges – and scrutiny – in getting his Taiwan agenda passed through Parliament during his term.

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

Those challenges were highlighted last Friday, when Taiwan lawmakers’ disagreements over controversial new reform plans erupted into a brawl inside Parliament – a chaotic spectacle that saw some lawmakers jump over tables and lure their colleagues to the ground, with some limbs taken. to the hospital.

In his speech, Lai said that “the absence of an absolute majority means that the ruling and opposition parties are now all able to share ideas and that we will address the nation’s challenges with one voice.”

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

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