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Taiwan’s Democratic Choice: William Lai Elected President, Sours Relations with China

Taiwan's Democratic Choice

Taiwan’s Democratic Choice: William Lai Ching-te’s election as Taiwan’s president has intensified an already strained relationship with China. Beijing, labelling him a “troublemaker” and “separatist,” reflects the longstanding dispute over Taiwan, which China considers as part of its territory, aiming for eventual unification.


William Lai
Picture Credit: Business Insider William Lai

Despite China’s vehement warnings against supporting the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), millions of Taiwanese voters chose Lai for an unprecedented third term for the DPP. Beijing views the party as leaning towards Taiwanese independence, crossing China’s red line.

The challenges for Lai lie in managing relations with Beijing while upholding Taiwan’s interests. As a doctor-turned-politician, Lai’s experience will be crucial in navigating the delicate balance between safeguarding Taiwan’s autonomy and preventing further deterioration of cross-strait relations.

How Lai handles Beijing’s concerns and how China reacts to his presidency will shape the dynamics. Lai’s diplomatic skills and strategic decisions will play a pivotal role in determining the course of Taiwan-China relations during his tenure. The international community will closely watch the developments, as any misstep could escalate regional tensions.

Taiwan’s Democratic Choice: William Lai elected

Despite promising a continuation of Tsai Ing-wen’s policies, William Lai Ching-te is perceived as more of a firebrand than the cautious outgoing president. While he has pledged to maintain the status quo, his history as a politician suggests a more assertive approach.

Lai’s rhetoric during the campaign, emphasising that Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state under the Republic of China, reflects his willingness to challenge China’s claims without explicitly declaring formal independence. His strategic use of language, stating “no need to declare independence,” allows him to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty without explicitly provoking Beijing.

Lai’s reputation as a firebrand likely stems from his past actions and statements. Before becoming vice president, he served as the premier and resigned in 2017 to take responsibility for the DPP’s poor performance in local elections. Throughout his career, he has been known for his outspoken style and willingness to confront sensitive issues.

Despite his more assertive demeanour, Lai seems to recognise the need for dialogue and cooperation, as indicated in his address on Saturday. Balancing this assertiveness with diplomatic pragmatism will be critical for Lai to navigate the delicate relations with China, ensuring the stability of Taiwan’s position on the global stage while avoiding unnecessary escalations.

William Lai political background as a member of the “new wave” faction within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), advocating the formal declaration of Taiwan independence, has raised concerns in Beijing. China dislike and mistrust Lai and his running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim,, resulting in their ban from travel to mainland China and Hong Kong.

Hsiao, having served as Taiwan’s representative to the US, adds an additional layer of complexity to the Taiwan-China relationship. With both leaders unlikely to receive a warm reception from Beijing, the prospect of dialogue between the two sides appears grim. Formal communication between Taiwan and China has been nonexistent since 2016 when China suspended the channel due to then-President Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge Taiwan as part of the mainland.

Taiwan’s Democratic Choice: William Lai victory

The election outcome indicates a continuation of the tense situation in the Taiwan Strait, characterized by frequent intrusions by Chinese ships and military aircraft. China may express its discontent through military shows of force, economic and diplomatic pressure, and sanctions against Taiwanese entities.

Lai’s strategy for addressing the Chinese military threat aligns with Tsai’s policies. He pledges to increase military spending, continue indigenous submarine-building programs, and strengthen ties with the United States, Japan, and Europe. Given Lai’s pro-independence background, there might be concerns in the US about potential provocations. However, Hsiao’s presence offers reassurance to the Biden administration, given her experience and likely role in persuading the US that Lai can be trusted to handle the delicate Taiwan-China relationship without unnecessarily provoking Beijing.

William Lai’s victory in the presidential election sends a clear message to Beijing that Taiwan is asserting its right to determine its own future, regardless of China’s preferences. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won by a larger margin than expected, indicating a rejection of Beijing’s influence on Taiwan’s political decisions. Younger DPP supporters expressed a sentiment of defiance, emphasizing that Taiwan’s future will be determined internally, and they expect Chinese leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, to respect Taiwan’s autonomy.

The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) ran a campaign focusing on the fears of a potential Chinese attack, suggesting that a KMT win might lead to a reduction in Chinese rhetoric and military intimidation, opening the possibility for dialogue with Beijing. However, the DPP’s victory indicates that voters prioritized a party that aligns with their identity as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and the KMT’s perceived capitulationist stance may have worked against them.

Despite these dynamics, challenges lie ahead for President Lai. While his government may face difficulties in the parliament, as the DPP is expected to lose its majority, the external factor of the next U.S. president also plays a crucial role. If Donald Trump becomes the next U.S. president, it could significantly impact Taiwan’s international standing. Lai must be prepared for a different kind of ally in the White House, as Trump’s administration might have distinct approaches to Taiwan and China, influencing the dynamics of cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s geopolitical position. The complexity of Lai’s term is shaped not only by internal challenges but also by the shifting geopolitical landscape on the global stage.

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News Shot 24
Author: News Shot 24

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