Beijing has repeatedly branded Lai Ching-te a separatist and had warned voters against supporting him
A long-time vocal advocate of independence, Taiwan’s vice president Lai Ching-te, a key figure in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has won the country’s presidential elections and takes office in May. Beijing has branded him a “troublemaker.”
“Destroyer of peace across the Taiwan Strait”
The outcome of the vote could further heighten tensions with China, which claims the self-governing island as part of its territory. Beijing had warned voters against supporting Lai and previously described this election as a choice between “war and peace, prosperity and decline.” The rival Kuomintang party pushed for dialogue with mainland authorities.
“Regardless of the result, it will not change the basic fact that Taiwan is part of China and there is only one China in the world,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the UK said, reacting to the election results.
Beijing, which has vowed to reunify with the breakaway province, by force if necessary, has denied Lai’s calls for talks over Taiwan’s future. Its Taiwan Affairs Office called him a “warmonger” and a “destroyer of peace across the Taiwan Strait.”
Following his victory, the 64-year-old said he is “determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threat and intimidation from China,” and that his intention is to maintain the current status quo in the Taiwan Strait. He added that his administration will “use dialogue to replace confrontation” in its diplomacy with Beijing.
Harvard grad who irritated the White House
Also known by his English name, William Lai, a former doctor and Harvard graduate, became a lawmaker in 1998, representing the southern city of Tainan. He was then elected mayor of the city in 2010 for two terms. Seven years later he was appointed prime minister in president Tsai Ing-wen’s government. In 2020 the veteran politician was sworn in as vice president when Tsai won a second term. He will be inaugurated as president in May.
He vowed to strengthen the island’s defenses and continue building ties with other “democracies,” apparently referring to the US and Japan.
Lai stirred controversy in July 2023 when he said he hoped that Taiwan’s president would one day be able to “enter the White House.” Former White House China official Dennis Wilder said the administration in Washington DC was “very anxious” over the politician.
Top Taiwanese politicians are barred from making official visits to Washington. In 2020, Lai, then-Vice President-elect, made a personal trip to the US. This made him the highest ranking Taiwanese politician to visit the American capital. After he was inaugurated as vice president he conducted only stopovers in 2022 and 2023.
Last August Beijing branded Lai a “troublemaker through and through,” his arrival in the United States prompting a statement that the act “seriously violates the One China principle.”
Beijing opposes any official exchange between the US and Taiwan. Washington formally recognizes the ‘One China’ principle, which states that Taiwan is part of China. However, Washington has maintained informal diplomatic ties with Taipei, in addition to supplying it with weaponry.
China has put sanctions on Lai’s vice-president-elect, Hsiao Bi-khim, who previously served as de facto envoy to the US.
‘Taiwan is already an independent nation’
“Lai will bring Taiwan farther and farther away from peace and prosperity, and closer and closer to war and decay,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Thursday.
Lai comes from a more radical wing of the ruling party. In 2017 he incensed mainland authorities by telling Taiwan’s parliament that he is a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence.” Nonetheless, he has ruled out declaring independence during his tenure.
“I would like to reiterate that Taiwan is already an independent and sovereign nation and thus we do not have a need to further declare Taiwan independence,” Lai said in January, according to Focus Taiwan.
The Russian foreign ministry reacted to the elections with a warning about any use of the vote “to put pressure on Beijing and shake up the situation in the [Taiwan] Strait and in the region,” describing such activity as counterproductive and deserving of condemnation from the international community.
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