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Taiwan’s New President Lai Ching-te Vows to Defend Democracy, Urges China to Cease Military Intimidation

Taipei – On Monday, Taiwan’s newly inaugurated President Lai Ching-te pledged to safeguard the island’s democracy and called on China to halt its military intimidation of the self-governed territory.

In his inauguration speech, Lai confronted the escalating threat of war, highlighting Taiwan’s resilience amid mounting pressure from China to unify the island with the mainland.

“A glorious era of Taiwan’s democracy has arrived,” Lai proclaimed, thanking citizens for “steadfastly defending democracy against external forces.”

Amid numerous threats and infiltration attempts from China, Lai, 64, emphasized the necessity of strong national defense and robust legal frameworks to protect national security. “We must demonstrate our resolve to defend our nation and enhance our defense awareness,” he stated.

Previously labeled a “dangerous separatist” by China for his pro-independence remarks, Lai has recently adopted a more moderate tone. On Monday, he asserted that his government would “neither yield nor provoke” and would maintain the status quo, preserving Taiwan’s sovereignty without declaring formal independence.

“I urge China to stop its political and military intimidation against Taiwan,” Lai said. He called on Beijing to “share the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and to eliminate the fear of war.

Lai has persistently sought high-level communications with China, which were severed in 2016 when his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, took office. He expressed hope for dialogue over confrontation, although experts predict his efforts might be rebuffed.

US Support

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, following the retreat of nationalists to the island after their defeat by communist forces in China’s civil war. For over 70 years, China has considered Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to use force to reclaim it.

Despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, the United States remains Taiwan’s most crucial partner and largest arms supplier. During his four-year term, Lai is expected to strengthen defense ties with Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai, expressing eagerness to deepen ties and maintain “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

In response to Lai’s inauguration, Chinese state media reported that Beijing imposed sanctions on three US defense companies over their arms sales to Taipei. Additionally, Chinese social media platform Weibo blocked hashtags referencing the inauguration.

Ahead of the ceremony, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office stated, “Taiwan independence and peace in the strait are like water and fire.” Chinese warplanes and naval vessels maintain a near-daily presence around the island, though there was no significant uptick in activity before the inauguration.

International and Domestic Challenges

Lai and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s former top envoy to Washington, are members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which champions Taiwan’s sovereignty. China has dubbed them the “independence duo.”

With only 12 formal allies, Taiwan lacks widespread diplomatic recognition. However, eight heads of state who recognize Taiwan attended Lai’s inauguration, alongside delegations from more than 40 other countries, including the United States, Japan, and Canada.

Taiwan operates with its own government, military, and currency. The majority of its 23 million residents identify as distinctly Taiwanese, separate from the Chinese identity.

Shen Yujen, a 24-year-old currently serving in the military, echoed public sentiment, stating, “It is better not to be too close to China or too far away — maintaining a neutral stance is best.”

Domestically, Lai faces challenges as the DPP lost its legislative majority in the January elections, complicating efforts to implement his policies. Many Taiwanese are more concerned about economic issues, such as soaring housing prices, rising living costs, and stagnating wages, than the threat of conflict.

Lai vowed to “expand investment in society” and ensure Taiwan becomes a “force for global prosperity,” addressing the domestic concerns of his constituents.

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