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Taiwan new president sworn in

New President Lai Ching-te calls on China to stop threats

Published : 20 May 2024 10:51 PM | Updated : 21 May 2024 04:55 PM

Taiwan’s Lai Ching-te was sworn in on Monday as president of the democratic island in the face of growing Chinese military pressure and a hostile parliament.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has branded 64-year-old Lai a “dangerous separatist” who will bring “war and decline” to the island.

Lai succeeds President Tsai Ing-wen, whose eight years in power saw a sharp deterioration in relations with Beijing over her rejection of China’s claim.

Like Tsai, Lai is a staunch defender of the island’s democracy and in the past has described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence”.

Lai has toned down his rhetoric and has repeatedly vowed to maintain the “status quo” on the Taiwan Strait, which means preserving Taiwan’s sovereignty while not declaring formal independence.

The inauguration ceremony was held at the Japanese colonial-era Presidential Office Building in Taipei, where Lai and his vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim were sworn into office shortly after.

Lai and Hsiao — arguably better known on the global stage due to her former role as Taiwan’s top envoy to Washington — are both part of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has championed Taiwan’s sovereignty. Lai will on Monday deliver his inaugural speech — which will be scrutinised for clues on how he will handle Taipei’s delicate relationship with Beijing — in front of thousands of people outside the Presidential Office.

Eight heads of state and representatives of 51 international delegations were invited — including from the United States, Japan and Canada — in a show of support for the island’s democracy.

More than a thousand performers showcasing traditional operas and dances will take part in a celebration that also includes an Air Force aerial formation to salute the new president.

Taiwan’s new President Lai Ching-te calls on China to stop threats

Lai Ching-te called on China to stop its military and political threats, as he was sworn in on Monday as the fifth popularly elected president of Taiwan.

Lai, addressing a crowd outside the presidential office in central Taipei, repeated a call for talks with Beijing, which regards the democratic island as its territory and has never renounced the option of using force to bring it under 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,” Lai 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.”

Lai took office alongside Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim. His Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will be the first party to govern for a third consecutive four-year term since the democratic island held its first direct presidential election in 1996.

Lai and Hsiao won the election on Jan. 13 after taking about 40% of the vote.

During the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office, Lai wore a purple tie representing a butterfly native to Taiwan, as well as a yellow pin on his lapel depicting mustard flowers, a common plant across the island. He received two seals symbolizing his presidential power from the parliament speaker: the seal of the Republic of China and the seal of honor. 

Both seals were brought to Taiwan when the Republican government fled to the island in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.

Lai received loud applause when he reiterated that the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – and the People’s Republic of China are “not subordinate to each other”. 

“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.”

The swearing-in ceremony, which ended with a flyover of Taiwan’s F-16 fighter aircraft, was attended by outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen.

Also at the ceremony were former U.S. officials sent 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, including Paraguay President Santiago Pena.

The U.S. and Japan extended their congratulations to Lai and expressed the hope that efforts to enhance bilateral relations will continue under the new administration.

Lai, a four-term legislator and two-term mayor of Tainan, served as premier from 2017 to 2019 under Tsai, and became her deputy in 2020 during her second term. He is the first vice president to become president since Taiwan began holding direct presidential elections.

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