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Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

Taiwan's new president Lai Ching-te has promised to defend the island's democracy in the face of Chinese threats and called for peace. China à "cease its political and military intimidation", after having readyé oath Monday.

Beijing, which has previously called Mr. Lai a “dangerous separatist”, blasted his speech, saying it sent “a dangerous signal”.

In his inauguration speech at the Presidential Palace in Taipei, Mr. Lai spoke directly about the threat of war after years of pressure from China to bring Taiwan under its control.

The new president thanked Taiwanese people for resisting the influence of “external forces and resolutely defending democracy,” saying that “the glorious era of democracy Taiwanese has arrived”.

“Faced with numerous threats and infiltration attempts, we must show our determination to defend our nation, we must also increase our defense preparedness and strengthen our legal framework in matters of national security,” noted Mr. Lai after his entry in function.

Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

President-elect Lai Ching-te takes the oath of office in front of a portrait of Taiwan's founder Sun Yat-sen during his inauguration on May 20, 2024 in Taipei. © Taiwanese Presidential Office – Handout

Coming from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the same movement as his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, Mr. Lai has described himself in the past as a “pragmatic worker” for Taiwan's independence.

But he has since softened his speech, and promised Monday that his government “will not give in, will not provoke and will maintain the status quo”, i.e. -say a balance that preserves Taiwan's sovereignty without declaring formal independence.

– Shared responsibility for peace –

He also called on China to “cease its political and military intimidation against Taiwan”.

Beijing must “share with Taiwan the responsibility towards the world for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”, he pleaded.

Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

The new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, during his inauguration on May 20, 2024 in Taipei © AFP – Sam YEH

Mr. Lai has repeatedly tried to reopen dialogue with China, which Beijing broke off in 2016.

The new president said Monday he hoped that China “will choose dialogue at the expense of confrontation” and called on Beijing to once again authorize tourism and the arrival of Chinese students on the island.

A few hours later, the minister Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, stressed that “the unification of China is irreversible.”

“The secessionist behavior of Taiwan's independence forces constitutes the most serious for the international order and the most dangerous change for the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” he said without naming Mr. Lai.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which manages cross-Strait issues, also slammed his inauguration speech, saying it sends “a dangerous signal” and calling it “a provocation aimed at undermining peace and stability between the two banks of the strait”.

The island of 23 million inhabitants has been governed autonomously since 1949, but China considers it part of its territory and claimed to want to bring it back under his control, by force if necessary.

Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

Taiwan and China © AFP – Jean-Michel CORNU, Patricio ARANA

If Washington has recognized Beijing to the detriment of Taipei since 1979, it has remained Taiwan's most important partner and its main arms supplier.

At the same time, China on Monday unveiled new sanctions against three US companies selling weapons to Taiwan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Mr. Lai, whose investiture is, according to him, the sign of a “resilient democratic system”. He said he hopes Washington and Taipei can strengthen their relations and maintain “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait region.

In China, the social network Weibo, equivalent to the X platform, blocked hashtags on Monday linked to the new Taiwanese president.

The ceremony, during which the new Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim held at the Presidential Palace in the capital Taipei.

Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

Taiwan's new President-elect Lai Ching-te (l) and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim (r) during the inauguration ceremony on May 20, 2024 in Taipei © AFP – Sam YEH

As a show of support, eight heads of state, from the rare countries that recognize Taiwan, participated as well as several dozen delegations.

Taiwan suffers from a lack of diplomatic recognition, having only 12 allies on the international scene.

An American delegation – including the former director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage – attended the inauguration in Taipei. In a meeting with the delegation after his inauguration, Mr. Lai thanked the United States “for its support of Taiwan, whether from the government or the private sector.”

– Internal challenges –

The island has its own institutions, an army and its currency: the new Taiwan dollar.

The majority of Taiwan's inhabitants also believe they have a Taiwanese identity, distinct from China, according to opinion surveys.

Taiwan's new president vows to defend democracy against China

The new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te, during his inauguration on May 20, 2024 in Taipei © Taiwanese Presidential Office – Handout

“I think it's best not to be too close or too far from China, it's better to maintain an attitude of neutrality,” observed Shen Yujen, a 24-year-old Taiwanese man, who is currently serving his military service.

In addition to the Chinese threat, President Lai Ching-te will face many other challenges during his term .

The DPP has lost its majority in parliament, which could make it more difficult for Mr Lai to push through his planned reforms to tackle the cost of living and housing.


All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116