•Says peace, prosperity goal of Island


President William Lai (C), First Lady Wu Mei-ju (L) and Vice-President Hsiao Bi-khim (R) during his inauguration at the Presidential Palace in Taipei, yesterday.       Photo: Bloomberg/Getty images


Taiwan President Lai Ching-te asked China yesterday to stop its military and political threats, saying in his inauguration speech that peace was the only choice and that Beijing had to respect the choice of the Taiwanese people.

China responded by saying Lai had sent “dangerous signals” that sought to undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Lai, addressing the crowd outside the Japanese-colonial-era presidential office in central Taipei, repeated a call for talks with China, which views the proudly democratic island as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.

“I also want to urge China to stop intimidating Taiwan politically and militarily, and to take on the global responsibility with Taiwan to work hard on maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the region, to ensure the world is without the fear of war breaking out,” he said.

“We also want to declare this to the world: Taiwan makes no concessions on democracy and freedom. Peace is the only option and prosperity is our goal for long-term peace and stability.”

In attendance at the ceremony were former United States officials dispatched by President Joe Biden, lawmakers from countries including Japan, Germany and Canada, and leaders from some of the 12 countries that still maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai, saying the United States looked forward to working with him “to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our longstanding unofficial relationship, and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.

In Lagos, the Representative of Taiwan’s Trade Office in Nigeria and Head of Mission, Andy Yih-Ping Liu issued a statement calling on Nigerians to join Taiwanese to “celebrate this momentous occasion.” He said “President Lai and Vice President Hsiao will utilise their wealth of experience and dedication, on their successful endeavors in leading Taiwan towards a new era of peace and prosperity.”

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the situation in the Taiwan Strait was “complicated and grim”. “Taiwan independence is incompatible with peace in the Taiwan Strait,” it said.

“No matter how the situation on the island changes, no matter who is in power, it will not change the fact that the two sides belong to the same China.” China repeatedly called Lai a “separatist” who risked war in the run-up to his election in January.

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Taiwan has faced pressure from China, including regular air force and navy activities near the island, since the election victory by Lai, 64, who is widely known by his English name, William.

Lai wore a purple tie, representing a butterfly native to Taiwan, and a yellow pin on his lapel of mustard flowers, a common plant in fields across the island.

He received seals symbolising his presidential power from the parliament speaker, including the seal of Republic of China and the seal of honour, both brought to Taiwan after the Republican government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.

Mr Lai, a doctor turned politician, won a three-way presidential race in January, securing an unprecedented third term for his. He had served as Ms Tsai’s vice-president since 2020, and before that as her premier. In his younger days, he was known to be a more radical politician who openly called for Taiwanese independence, much to Beijing’s ire. It labelled him a “troublemaker” ahead of the polls, and Chinese state media even suggested he should be prosecuted for secession.

His vice-president Hsiao Bi-Khim, widely believed to be Ms Tsai’s protege, is yet another source of assurance for Washington. The 52-year-old was born in Japan and mostly grew up in the US, where she also served as Taiwan’s representative for three years.

Lai said people must be realistic about the threat and Taiwan must show its determination to defend itself.

“Fellow citizens, we have the ideal to pursue peace, but we must not have illusions,” he said. “Before China gives up using force to invade Taiwan, citizens must understand this: Even if we accept all of China’s claims and give up our sovereignty, China’s ambition to annex Taiwan will not disappear.”

Vowing peace and stability, Mr Lai also said he would like to see a re-opening of exchanges across the Taiwan straits including Chinese tourist groups coming to Taiwan. But he said people on the island must not be under any illusion about the threat from China and that Taiwan must further strengthen its defences.

This too was a continuation of Tsai’s policy. Taiwan’s former president believed that strengthening defence and earning the support of key allies such as the US and Japan was key to deterring China’s plans of invasion. Her biggest critics say this military investment risks provoking China, making Taiwan even more vulnerable.

Lai received loud applause after reiterating that the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) and the People’s Republic of China are “not subordinate to each other”, a line Tsai also took.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said that yesterday, the navy was dispatched to monitor eight Chinese navy ships operating around Taiwan. Such Chinese missions have become common in recent years. Taiwanese fighter jets flew in formation over Taipei after Lai’s speech.

At the end of the ceremony, Lai and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim, formerly Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, led the crowd in a sing-along to pop songs as they danced onstage with the other performers.

Lai’s domestic challenges loom large too, given his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its parliamentary majority in the January election. Mr Lai also faces big challenges at home. Unemployment and cost of living cost the DPP the youth vote in January, and Taiwan’s economy is seen to be heavily dependent on its hugely successful semiconductor industry – it supplies more than half the world’s chips

On Friday, lawmakers punched, shoved and screamed at each other in a bitter dispute over parliamentary reforms the opposition is pushing. There could be more fighting on Tuesday when lawmakers resume their discussions.

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