Taiwan's new president urges China to halt 'military intimidation' tactics

Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te, said in his inauguration speech Monday that he wants peace with China and urged it to stop its military threats and intimidation of the self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own territory.

“I hope that China will face the reality of (Taiwan)’s existence, respect the choices of the people of Taiwan, and in good faith, choose dialogue over confrontation,” Lai said after being sworn into office.

Lai pledged to “neither yield nor provoke” Beijing and said he sought peace in relations with China. But he emphasized the island democracy is determined to defend itself “in the face of the many threats and attempts at infiltration from China.”


Lai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, doesn’t seek independence from China but maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation.

The Chinese office in charge of Taiwan affairs criticized Lai’s inauguration speech as promoting “the fallacy of separatism,” inciting confrontation and relying on foreign forces to seek independence.

“We will never tolerate or condone any form of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities,” said Chen Binhua, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council.

“No matter how the situation on the island changes, no matter who is in power, it cannot change the fact that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China … and cannot stop the historical trend of the motherland’s eventual reunification,” Chen said.


The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Monday also announced sanctions against Boeing and two other defense companies for arms sales to Taiwan.

Lai, 64, takes over from Tsai Ing-wen, who led Taiwan through eight years of economic and social development despite the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s escalating military threats. Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province and has been upping its threats to annex it by force if necessary.

Lai is seen as inheriting Tsai’s progressive policies, including universal health care, backing for higher education and support for minority groups, including making Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages.

In his inauguration speech, Lai pledged to bolster Taiwan’s social safety net and help the island advance in fields such as artificial intelligence and green energy.

Lai, who was vice president during Tsai’s second term, came across as more of a firebrand earlier in his career. In 2017, he described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence,” drawing Beijing’s rebuke. He has since softened his stance and now supports maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and the possibility of talks with Beijing.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei for the inauguration ceremony. Donning white celebratory hats, they watched the swearing-in on large screens, followed by a military march and colorful performances featuring folk dancers, opera performers and rappers. Military helicopters flew in formation, carrying Taiwan’s flag.

Lai accepted congratulations from fellow politicians and delegations from the 12 nations that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as well as politicians from the U.S., Japan and various European states.

Lai, also known by his English name William, has vowed to continue his predecessor’s push to maintain stability with China while beefing up Taiwan’s security through imports of military equipment from close partner the U.S., the expansion of the defense industry with the manufacture of submarines and aircraft, and the reinforcing of regional partnerships with unofficial allies such as the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken congratulated Lai on his inauguration. “We look forward to working with President Lai and across Taiwan’s political spectrum to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our longstanding unofficial relationship, and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Blinken said in a statement from his office.

The U.S. doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan as a country but is bound by its own laws to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

Lai’s relatively conciliatory tone will come across as reassuring to foreign governments that may have been concerned about his past reputation as a firebrand, said Danny Russell, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“There is virtually nothing that Lai could have said, short of ‘unconditional surrender,’ that would satisfy Beijing,” he said.

Although Lai signaled he would maintain the overall direction of Tsai’s policy regarding Beijing, he struck a more sovereignty-affirming tone in his speech, said Amanda Hsiao, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“This likely fits within Beijing’s low expectations of Lai, so it won’t necessarily change their response,” Hsiao said. “China was always going to respond negatively to Lai.”

During her tenure, Tsai oversaw a controversial pension and labor reform and extended the military conscription length to one year. She also kickstarted a military modernization drive.

Tsai’s leadership during the pandemic split public opinion, with most admiring Taiwan’s initial ability to keep the virus largely outside its borders but criticizing the lack of investment in rapid testing as the pandemic progressed.

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