Williams Lai: Taiwan just picked a president that China doesn't like. Now what?
licesop | 2024-01-14 02:30:26 | 閲覧数: 83

The Chinese capital branded him as a "troublemaker" and a "separatist" who posed a threat. He has been elected as the president of Taiwan.

Xi Jinping has declared unity with Taiwan as a goal, and China has long claimed the island as its own. These dangers, however, have intensified throughout the last 12 months.

Under bright, warm skies on Saturday, millions of Taiwanese went to the polls to cast their ballots for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), despite fresh Chinese warnings against doing so.

William Lai Ching-te, 64 years old and a doctor-turned-politician, was chosen as vice president to guide Taiwan through its tense relationship with China.

China views the DPP as dangerously close to crossing its unwavering red line—Taiwanese independence—and this is the first time the party has ever won three consecutive terms in office.

The success or failure of Mr. Lai's president hinges on his handling of Beijing and the city's response to him.

A new beginning - or Tsai 3.0?
In his campaign speech, Mr. Lai pledged to carry on the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen.

He was cautious with his word choice and sought dialogue and cooperation even in his Saturday speech.

"There is no need to declare independence, because Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state - its name is the Republic of China - Taiwan," he has said repeatedly throughout his campaign, echoing her phrase.

Mr. Lai, on the other hand, has a reputation for being far more radical than President Tsai, who is known for her cautious nature.

He rose through the ranks of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to become an outspoken supporter of Taiwan's official independence from China (the "new wave" faction).

Mr. Lai and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim have been barred from visiting mainland China and Hong Kong due to Beijing's profound disdain and distrust of them.

The daughter of American and Taiwanese parents, Ms. Hsiao most recently served as Taiwan's ambassador to the United States.

Therefore, it's quite doubtful that China will consent to meet with the next president for a conversation. There has been zero official contact between the parties since 2016. As a result of China's ire over Ms. Tsai's denial of Taiwan's mainland status, the channel was temporarily halted.

The already volatile situation in the Taiwan Strait, where Chinese ships and military planes incur frequent incursions, will only get worse after Saturday's decision.

Following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 2022 visit to Taipei, Beijing may demonstrate its displeasure with a large display of military might. Subsequently, Taipei asserted that it was imitating an island blockade.

A possible increase in economic and diplomatic pressure from China might see increased sanctions against Taiwanese companies, goods, and individuals, as well as the expulsion of the limited number of states that still recognize Taiwan.

Following in Ms. Tsai's footsteps is Mr. Lai's plan to counter China's military threat.

More funding for the Taiwanese military, the continuation of the domestic submarine building program, and tighter ties to the US, Japan, and Europe are all on his agenda. The bond that Ms. Tsai has developed with Washington is particularly noteworthy.

Given Lai's history as a pro-independence politician, however, there is sure to be some American fear that his president could be more controversial.

But the Biden administration might take comfort in his running mate, Ms. Hsiao. She will probably spearhead efforts to reassure the US that Mr. Lai will not antagonize Beijing.

'Xi Jinping should exercise more restraint.'
Beijing will not be able to disregard the message that Mr. Lai's victory conveys, regardless of how he maneuvers his cards.

Despite widespread predictions of a close contest, the DPP emerged victorious by a significant majority.

“They are saying to China we won’t listen to you any more. Our future will be determined by ourselves, so Xi Jinping needs to learn to be quiet during our election,” a younger DPP supporter told the BBC after the results were announced.

The campaign of Hou You-ih and the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), drew on the legitimate concerns of the locals of a possible Chinese invasion of the island.

If the KMT had won, Beijing would have been significantly more inclined to accept to meet with Mr. Hou for talks and would have likely backed down from its rhetoric and military threats against Taiwan.

In 2015, Mr. Xi met with Ma Ying-jeou, the final president of the KMT in Taiwan. Taiwanese and Chinese leaders finally met in person after the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.

By preventing increases in defense spending and cutting military duty on the island to just four months, opponents of the KMT claimed that the party was showing a capitulationist attitude toward China and was not genuinely defending the island.

Many were worried that Taiwan would be much more exposed under a KMT administration. If Taiwan does not prioritize its own defense, powerful allies like the United States, which provides the island with weapons, may wonder why they should pledge to defend it.

Defense spending in Taiwan is now at about 2.5% of GDP. Not nearly as much as the United States or other regional nations like South Korea, which face significant security threats.

This suggests that the electorate has made up its mind. They want to talk, and they know Beijing poses a threat. However, the KMT failed to win over the younger generation of voters, many of whom identify more with Taiwanese than Chinese.

Despite the KMT's stated goal of safeguarding Taiwan's peace and security via improved relations with Beijing, the party seldom brings up unification or even the idea of "one China" anymore.

What would turn out to be Taiwan's greatest loss has been driven home in recent months. There is a noticeable amount of energy and excitement surrounding voting in these elections, which are held in a relatively young stage of democracy.

Voters under the age of 35 were disenchanted with the DPP because of the government's handling of growing housing costs, flat earnings, and dwindling employment prospects.

That is the main reason why the DPP is expected to see its parliamentary majority eroded. It is highly probable that the KMT, in an alliance with the Taiwan People's Party, would secure enough seats to exert a tight grip on legislation, allowing it to thwart Mr. Lai's program.

For President Lai, the road ahead is everything but smooth. Not only will he face hostility from his own administration and a massive neighbor, but another election on the opposite side of the globe will also impact his term.

If Donald Trump wins the presidency, he will have to adjust to working with a different type of ally.