‘Stop threatening Taiwan’, its new president William Lai tells China

'Stop threatening Taiwan', its new president William Lai tells China
Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te delivers his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei on May 20, 2024.Getty Images

William Lai, Taiwan’s recently elected president, has urged China to cease threatening the area and acknowledge the country’s democracy.

Soon after taking the oath of office on Monday, he urged Beijing to switch from conflict to dialogue.

He added that Taiwan would not give in to harassment from China, which has much ruled the island as its own.

Mr Lai is loathed by China which sees him as a” secessionist”.

In recent years, Taiwan has experienced increased tension.

In the past few years, military attacks by China have become a common practice, raising concerns of issue. In his statement, Mr Lai called this the “greatest proper challenge to world peace and stability”.

The 64-year-old, however, adhered closely to the method used by his father, Tsai Ing-wen, whose legacy may be defined by her optimistic but constant managing of Beijing.

Mr Lai, a doctor turned politician, won a three- way presidential race in January, securing an unprecedented third term for his Democratic Progressive Party ( DPP ). He had served as Ms Tsai’s sin- president since 2020, and before that as her leading. He was a more dramatic politician who publicly called for Taiwan’s democracy, which has not escaped Beijing, in his younger time. It labelled him a” agitator” ahead of the surveys, and Chinese state media perhaps suggested he may get prosecuted for independence.

The Taiwanese government is yet to issue a statement on Mr Lai’s opening. Over the weekend, the Chinese consulate in the UK held a press briefing to urge the UK authorities to abstain. And earlier next month, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned that the region’s new chief “must really” consider the question of whether he wants quiet development or fight.

China’s Commerce Ministry placed restrictions on many US companies that had “involved in arms selling to Taiwan” just as Mr. Lai was being sworn in.

But on Monday, Mr Lai struck a far more conciliatory statement. He reiterated that despite its constitution and independent government, Taiwan has an ambiguous political status that prevents recognition of the country. China insists on this and accuses big Taiwan friends like the US of tampering with the area by supporting it.

Mr. Lai even praised peace and stability and said he would like to observe a re-opening of markets across the Taiwan islands, including Chinese tourist groups visiting Taiwan. However, he argued that Taiwan may improve its defenses and that people on the island must not be misled about the threat coming from China.

This also was a culmination of Tsai’s coverage. The former chairman of Taiwan believed that bolstering defense and gaining the support of key allies like the US and Japan were essential to thwarting China’s war plans. Her most enthralling critics claim that Taiwan may become even more vulnerable as a result of this defense purchase.

Nevertheless, yearly defence spending increased up to about$ 20bn ( £16bn ) under Ms Tsai, and Mr Lai has pledged even more funds. Taiwan has built and launched a fleet of new missile boats to guard the 100-mile Taiwan sea, upgraded its ships of F-16 fighter jets, and launched a fleet of fresh war tanks. What Ms. Tsai considers to be the most notable achievements of her military system: Taiwan’s initial indigenously developed underwater, was completed last September.

Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te (C), incoming First Lady Wu Mei-ju (L) and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim (R) react after his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei on May 20, 2024.

Getty Images

Despite cleaving strongly to his presidency’s information, Mr Lai’s conversation differed on one delicate note, according to social scientist Sung Wen- ti.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Lai said” China needs to recognise the existence of the Republic of China] Taiwan ]”. However, Mr. Lai merely called it China more than Ms Tsai and other people who typically refer to China as a guide to Beijing or the Chinese government. This might indicate that he views China as a distinct nation, distinct from Taiwan.

Although Mr. Sung thinks it’s a very subtle signal, the Chinese who now detest him will not miss it.

Taiwan’s personal allies are also keeping an eye on his rhetoric to see if it will only aggravate tensions more. Mr Lai’s sin- leader Hsiao Bi- Khim, is commonly believed to be Ms Tsai’s disciple and a source of confidence for Washington. The 52-year-old was primarily raised in the US and was born in Japan. She also served for three years as Taiwan’s US representative.

Mr. Lai also encounters significant difficulties at home. The DPP’s youth vote in January is sworn in by the president, and Taiwan’s economy is seen to be heavily influenced by its enormously successful semiconductor industry, which provides more than half the world’s chips.

And a divided parliament, where the DPP no longer has a majority, is likely to deny him a honeymoon period. Over the weekend, when lawmakers were caught brawling in parliament over proposed reforms, the differences came into focus. Mr. Lai’s address was marred by the bitter conflict and subsequent protests.

The main issue facing his presidency will be how he deals with Beijing, especially since both sides have not spoken publicly since 2016.

Lawyer Hsu Chih-ming, who was present at the inaugurations, claimed that Taiwan had performed well under Ms. Tsai but that there is still need to maintain” good communications” with China.

” Lai said he was a ‘ practical worker for Taiwan independence’. I hope he would n’t emphasise this too much and worsen cross- strait relations”, he said. If a war broke out, otherwise all of us would n’t be able to escape.

With additional reporting from Joy Chang, BBC Chinese

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