June 18, 2024

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Taiwan’s president pledges to keep the island safe amid Chinese pressure

Taiwan’s president pledges to keep the island safe amid Chinese pressure

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te was sworn in on Monday, vowing to keep the island’s democracy safe in the face of Chinese pressure and wars raging abroad that have fueled uncertainty about the West’s survival.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Lai was conciliatory and tough on how the island should maintain its fragile peace with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory. He said he hopes to hold talks with Beijing. But he put forward general conditions that China’s leaders are unlikely to accept, and pledged that Taiwan would continue to build relations with sister democracies while fortifying itself against China’s military buildup.

Mr Lai said Taiwan should “harbour no illusions”.

“Even if we accept China’s proposals in their entirety and give up sovereignty, China’s attempts to swallow Taiwan will not disappear,” he said. He added: “In the face of numerous threats and infiltration attempts from China, we must show our determination to defend our nation.”

The Chinese Government’s Office for Taiwan Affairs quickly denounced Mr. Lai’s speech, accusing him of “inciting cross-Strait hostility and confrontation.”

Many Taiwanese want stable relations with Beijing, and want Mr. Lai’s government to focus on fixing Taiwan’s economic and social ills. But even with strong bipartisan support from Washington, Taiwan faces a more dangerous world, and a more powerful China, than it did when Mr. Lai’s predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, took office in 2016.

At that time, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s hard-line policies began to galvanize Western opposition. Now Western countries are burdened by wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. Mr. Xi was seeking to weaken US-led alliances against China; The upcoming elections in the United States increase uncertainty about the direction of its foreign policy.

“It is a much more charged international environment for Lai in 2024 than for Tsai in 2016,” he said. Khris Templeman, a research fellow studying Taiwanese politics at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. “The war in Ukraine, China’s shift toward greater internal repression, deteriorating U.S.-China relations, and the last eight years of cross-Strait hostility have put Lai in an even more difficult position.”

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Long before Mr. Lai took office, Beijing made clear that it hated him more than it hated Ms. Tsai. Chinese officials often cite a statement he made in 2017 in which he described himself as a “practical worker for Taiwan independence.” Mr. Lai’s supporters say he meant that Taiwan should exercise self-rule without seeking formal independence. This description does not calm China, which again called him a “worker for Taiwan independence” on Monday.

In his speech, Mr. Lai called for dialogue with leaders in Beijing — based on accepting Taiwan as a sovereign state, which is still officially called the Republic of China. He also urged the two sides to agree to revive tourism between them and allow Chinese students to enroll in Taiwanese universities.

He said Mr. Xi was unlikely to accept Mr. Lai’s conditions for the talks Amanda Hsiao, senior China analyst at the International Crisis Group, which seeks to defuse conflicts. China froze high-level contacts with Taiwan after Ms. Tsai took office in 2016, accusing her of failing to uphold a “consensus” that Taiwan and the mainland are part of one China, which is Beijing’s condition for talks.

“The two sides are far from the basis of dialogue that both sides can accept,” Ms. Hsiao said. “The benefit of these formulations is that they are very vague, but Lai appears to be saying that without further signs of honesty from Beijing, the cost of accepting such ambiguity will be too high.”

In the coming weeks and months, China may escalate military and trade pressure on Taiwan in an attempt to weaken Mr. Lai’s presidency. It has maintained a steady presence of fighter jets near the island, and recently sent Coast Guard ships near Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island near the Chinese mainland, in moves aimed at intimidation while desisting from a conflict that might attract Washington.

But Mr. Xi’s desire to stabilize relations with Washington and focus on reforming the Chinese economy has reduced his willingness to risk a crisis. Beijing is also likely to wait for the outcome of the US presidential election late this year before it considers making major moves on Taiwan.

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“Lai’s speech will not launch a PRC amphibious invasion of Taiwan, but it will not change Xi Jinping’s conviction that Lai is a ‘dangerous agent for independence’.” Daniel Russellthe former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said of the potential reaction from the People’s Republic of China, or PRC

American support remains vital to Taiwan’s ability to confront Chinese military pressure. Mr. Lai used his speech to promote Taiwan’s global importance — as a front line against China, as a trade and technological powerhouse, and as an exemplary democracy.

He added, “The future of cross-Strait relations will have a decisive impact on the world.” “This means that we, who inherited democratic Taiwan, are pilots for peace.”

Congress recently approved a supplemental spending package that released $8.1 billion in military aid to Taiwan and to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Ships from the US and Taiwanese navies also conducted a joint military exercise in the Pacific Ocean last month, which is a Taiwanese exercise The Ministry of Defense said last week.

He added that “peace through strength will be his main position on cross-Strait relations.” Won Tee SongA nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Center, who analyzes Taiwanese politics, said of Mr. Lai.

There is an increasingly heated debate in Taiwan over how much the United States can help build up the island’s military in the next few years while continuing to address the Russian war in Ukraine and the Israeli attack on Gaza, neither of which is expected to end soon.

Mr. Lai’s opponents in Taiwan say he risks pushing the island into a security dead end – unable to talk to Beijing and yet unprepared for any confrontation. Fu Kun-chi, a member of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party legislature who recently visited China, pointed to Ukraine as a warning.

“Since ancient times, people from a small country or region have never risen against a larger neighboring country to fight,” Fu said in an interview. He asked: “Would it really be in the interests of the Americans to wage war across the Taiwan Strait?” I don’t really think so. Is it possible for the United States to face three battlefields at the same time?

The political divisions that could pressure Mr. Lai’s administration were on full display last week in the chamber, called the Legislative Yuan. Representatives from competing parties He pushed, shouted, and fought Regarding proposed new rules regarding vetting government officials. Opponents of the rules called for demonstrations on Tuesday.

Mr. Lai won the three-way presidential race last January with just over 40 percent of the vote. Mr Lai, a former doctor with a humble background, pledged to tackle domestic problems such as the widening wealth gap and rising housing costs.

But Mr Lai may find it difficult to advance his agenda, as the two main opposition parties retain a majority of seats in the Legislative Council. In his speech, he called on the rival parties to work together.

“There is nothing he can do as president if the Legislative Yuan is caught in the fray,” he said. Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “He has to find a way to get them to cooperate. If he can’t, nothing else matters.”