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Lai Ching-te: Taiwan inaugurates its new president for the ruling party’s historic third term after voters reject China’s warnings

Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images/File

Lai Ching-te, pictured earlier this month, was sworn in as president of Taiwan on Monday.


Taipei
CNN

Lai Ching-te was sworn in as Taiwan’s president on Monday, marking the start of a historic third consecutive term for the island’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has defended democracy in the face of years of growing threats from an authoritarian China.

Lai, 64, a former doctor, 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 succeeds the DPP’s predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, who boosted the island’s status and international recognition during her eight years in office.

In his inauguration speech later Monday, Lai is expected to emphasize that he will build on the foundations established by Tsai — the island’s first female leader — according to a memo obtained by CNN. It is also expected to demonstrate goodwill toward China with a message of seeking peace and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait.

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.

Voters are ignoring 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 threats from China and deepen its relations with other democratic countries, even if it means economic sanction or military intimidation from Beijing.

Lai himself defended this view – calling his victory a “victory for the community of democracies” after the election results were announced.

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.”

In the run-up to the election, Chinese officials have repeatedly framed the vote as a choice between “peace and war,” while accusing Lai of inciting the conflict.

Lai now says he favors the current status quo, proclaiming that “Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent country,” so there is “no plan or need” to declare independence.

This deliberately nuanced position mimics that of her outgoing predecessor Tsai, Taiwan’s first female president, who was unable to run again due to term limits.

Under Xi’s heavy-handed tactics in the dozen years since he came to 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.

Meanwhile, Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan. Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have reached their highest level since 1996, when China fired missiles into waters off Taiwan’s coast to intimidate voters ahead of the island’s first free presidential election – after the nascent democracy emerged from decades of its own authoritarian rule.

As Lai officially takes office, official communications between Beijing and Taipei, interrupted since Tsai came to power, are unlikely to resume – with China repeatedly rejecting his offer of talks and denouncing him as a dangerous separatist.

News Source : amp.cnn.com
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