June 16, 2024

New president Lai vows to defend Taiwan’s democracy

New Taiwan President Lai Ching-te on Monday vowed to defend the island’s democracy, as he called on China to end its military intimidation of the self-ruled island.

Beijing, which has in the past branded Lai as a “dangerous separatist”, responded hours later saying that “Taiwan independence is a dead end”. 

In his inauguration speech, Lai directly addressed the threat of war following years of growing pressure from China to bring democratic Taiwan under mainland rule.

Lai said a “glorious era of Taiwan’s democracy has arrived” and thanked citizens for “refusing to be swayed by external forces, for resolutely defending democracy”. 

“In face of the many threats and attempts of infiltration from China, we must demonstrate our resolution to defend our nation and we must also raise our defence awareness and strengthen our legal framework for national security,” said Lai, 64.

Having previously described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence”, Lai has moderated his rhetoric on the issue in recent years. 

On Monday, he said his government would “neither yield nor provoke, and maintain the status quo” — a balance that preserves Taiwan’s sovereignty while not declaring formal independence. 

“I also want to call on China to cease their political and military intimidation against Taiwan,” Lai said. 

He urged Beijing to “share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait… and ensure the world is free from the fear of war”.

Lai has made repeated overtures to resume high-level communications with China, which Beijing severed in 2016 when his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen took power.

On Monday Lai said he hoped China would “choose dialogue over confrontation”, and called for Beijing to restart tourism and allow Chinese students to study in Taiwan. 

Hours after his speech, Beijing’s foreign ministry called “Taiwan independence… a dead end.” 

“No matter under what guise or banner, the pursuit of Taiwan independence and secession is doomed to fail,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.

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