Incoming Taiwan president Lai to pledge steady approach to relationship with China

Last Updated on May 18, 2024 5:28 pm

TAIPEI, May 18 (Reuters) – Taiwan’s next president, Lai Ching-te, will pledge to secure stability by maintaining the status quo in the island’s relationship with China in his inauguration speech on Monday, an incoming senior security official said.

Lai, who succeeds President Tsai Ing-wen after having been her vice president for the past four years, will have to deal with a China that has ramped up pressure – including almost daily military incursions near its airspace – on democratic Taiwan to accept its sovereignty, a claim strongly rejected by Taipei.

Lai, 64, has repeatedly offered to hold talks with China but has been rebuffed by Beijing, which has not renounced using force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) say only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

“We will talk about our stable and steady approach, continuing the fundamentals laid down by President Tsai,” the incoming official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told a briefing in Taipei.

“We will make sure that Taiwan plays an indispensable role in the global economy and geopolitics while maintaining the status quo and working with all parties to ensure the status quo will not be eroded.”

The official said, however, the new government will face a “more difficult and complex” reality at home and abroad because China has staged “more provocative” military incursions that have alarmed Taiwan on a daily basis and launched influence campaigns to split public opinion in Taiwan.

“We will continue to make it clear to the international society that it is the other side which keeps destroying international order and ruining the opportunities for cross-strait exchanges,” the person said.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which this week said “Taiwan region’s new leader” had to make a clear choice between peaceful development or confrontation, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

In the run-up to Lai’s election victory in January, Beijing repeatedly denounced him as a supporter of formal independence for Taiwan, framing the vote as a choice between war and peace.

China says any move by Taiwan to declare formal independence would be grounds to attack the island. The government in Taipei says Taiwan is already an independent country, the Republic of China, and that it does not plan to change that. The Republican government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists.
In the days leading up to Lai’s inauguration, China has escalated its daily military activities, including staging mock attacks on foreign vessels near Taiwan, sources have previously told Reuters.

The incoming official said Lai will pledge to further modernise Taiwan’s defence and continue programmes to manufacture its own military aircraft and ships.

“Our goal is to make sure a conflict will never happen,” the official said.
Lai, widely known by his English name William, also faces a big domestic challenge given the DPP lost its parliamentary majority in the January election.

Lawmakers fought with each other in chaotic scenes in parliament on Friday as the two main opposition parties pressed ahead with controversial reforms to the chamber, including making false statements in the legislature a criminal offence.

Lai, writing on Facebook in the early hours of Saturday, called for “rational” debate so harmony can be restored and a consensus obtained.

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