Inauguration of New President Lai: China, Taiwan Should Explore Dialogue to Ease Tensions

Taiwan, where democracy and fair politics have taken root, has a growing presence in East Asia. It will be an important responsibility of the new Taiwan president to work for regional stability without increasing tensions with China.

In Taiwan, Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was inaugurated as the 16th-term president.

His predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, also of the DPP, served eight years in two terms as the Taiwan president. During that time, she took a stance of maintaining the status quo in China-Taiwan relations and won the confidence of the public. Lai is expected to follow the same policy.

In his inaugural address, Lai stated that Taiwan will work to “neither yield nor provoke, and maintain the status quo” in Taiwan-China relations. The new president also appealed to the Chinese side, saying he hopes Beijing will choose dialogue and exchange “under the principles of parity and dignity.”

Meanwhile, Lai made it clear that Taiwan and China “are not subordinate to each other,” and he clearly showed his stance of refusing to accept the “one-China” principle, thus taking the same stance as the previous administration.

Lai has long been viewed as having a strong “pro-independence” orientation. However, according to a Taiwan media opinion survey, more than 70% of residents want to maintain the status quo in relations with China.

To keep from giving the Chinese administration of President Xi Jinping an excuse to increase tensions across the Taiwan Strait, it is essential for Lai to maintain a calm attitude that soft-pedals his independent stance.

Taiwan is home to many manufacturing bases for electronic devices and the chemical industry. Among these, cutting-edge semiconductors account for 90% of the world’s market share and have become Taiwan’s signature industry. However, residents are increasingly becoming frustrated with soaring housing prices and wage disparities.

In addition, Lai’s DPP is just the minority ruling party in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s one-chamber parliament.

Improving residents’ standards of living is an important challenge for the Lai administration. In order to implement various policies and stabilize the administration, it must be flexible enough to cooperate with the Kuomintang, the largest opposition party, which takes a conciliatory line toward China.

Meanwhile, regarding Lai as pro-independence, the Xi administration views him with a hostile mindset. It is certain Beijing will take a hard-line stance toward him.

Immediately after the Taiwan presidential election, the Pacific island nation of Nauru severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China. It is believed that the Xi administration lobbied Nauru to cut ties with Taiwan. Such action cannot be called befitting a major power responsible for the stability of Asia.

The more China increases its coercion, the more the residents of Taiwan are likely to feel distance from China. The Xi administration should recognize that such a situation will not serve its own interests and be open to dialogue with Taiwan.

A situation in which confrontation between China and Taiwan intensifies and the region is destabilized is also undesirable for Japan and the United States. Japan and the United States need to encourage both sides to prevent the escalation of confrontation and promote efforts to ease tensions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 21, 2024)