Lai Ching-te, elected president of Taiwan, leads the island towards democracy

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will be on the side of democracy.”

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TAIPEI, Taiwan – Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s president-elect, has vowed to safeguard the island’s de facto independence from China and further align it with other democracies.

Lai, 64, emerged victorious in Saturday’s election on the island of 23 million people that China claims as its own. He is currently vice president of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has rejected China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan.

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Facing his supporters on Saturday night, Lai vowed that Taiwan “will continue to walk side by side with democracies around the world.”

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will be on the side of democracy,” he said.

Lai has vowed to strengthen the island’s defense and economy, which relies heavily on trade with China. He has also made an effort to soften his previous stance as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence.”

At the same time, the new president has expressed his desire to restart dialogue with China, which has refused to communicate with the island’s leaders in recent years.

“We are ready and willing to commit to show more for the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. “Peace is priceless and war has no winners,” she said earlier in the week.

However, his chances of success in talks with China are close to zero, analysts say.

“Beijing has repeatedly criticized not only the DPP more generally, but has actually criticized Lai Ching-te by name,” said Wen-Ti Sung, a member of the US think tank Atlantic Council. “It’s something Beijing typically only does when it believes there is very little chance of the two sides repairing ties.”

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Instead, Sung added, China will likely resort to a “maximum pressure campaign,” including military and economic coercion.

As vice president, Lai helped promote Taiwan’s interests internationally.

In August it stopped in New York and San Francisco on its way to Latin America, in a move that was criticized by Beijing.

That visit was part of a diplomatic mission to Paraguay, one of a dozen countries that still maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Many countries, including the United States, formally recognize the People’s Republic of China but maintain unofficial ties with Taiwan.

Lai said at the time that it was important to meet with his foreign counterparts to convey the message that Taiwan “persists in its democracy, human rights and freedom and actively participates in international affairs.”

President Joe Biden was asked about the election in Taiwan as he left the White House on Saturday to spend the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. “We do not support independence,” he said.

The US Secretary of State congratulated Lai, and also “the people of Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of their strong democratic system and electoral process.”

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US House Speaker Mike Johnson said he will ask the chairmen of relevant House committees to lead a delegation to Taipei after Lai’s inauguration in May.

Lai has pointed to China’s missile launches and other military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 as a “defining moment” that brought him into politics.

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal in July, he vowed to maintain the status quo, saying it was best for Taiwan and the international community. He also drew a line between Taiwan and Ukraine and the rise of authoritarianism globally “has awakened the international community to the fragility of democracy.”

In that article, he called for increasing Taiwan’s military deterrent capabilities, strengthening economic security, forging partnerships with democracies around the world, and “stable, principled cross-Strait leadership.”

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