New Taiwan President Sworn In, Pledges to Protect Island’s Democracy

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Taiwan President, Lai Ching-te

Newly inaugurated Taiwan President Lai Ching-te pledged on Monday to safeguard the island’s democracy and urged China to cease its military intimidation. In his inauguration speech, Lai addressed the rising tensions with China, which has intensified efforts to assert control over Taiwan.

Lai, emphasizing a “glorious era of Taiwan’s democracy,” expressed gratitude to citizens for “resolutely defending democracy against external pressures.” He stated, “In the face of threats and infiltration attempts from China, we must demonstrate our determination to protect our nation, enhance our defense awareness, and strengthen our legal framework for national security.”

China has labeled Lai as a “dangerous separatist” due to his previous comments on Taiwan’s independence, though his rhetoric has softened in recent years. On Monday, Lai asserted that his government would “neither yield nor provoke, and will maintain the status quo,” balancing Taiwan’s sovereignty without declaring formal independence.

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Lai called on China to halt its political and military intimidation, urging Beijing to “share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and ensure the world is free from the fear of war.” He also expressed a desire for dialogue over confrontation with China, a proposal experts predict may be rebuffed.

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Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949, after the nationalists retreated to the island following their defeat in the Chinese civil war. Despite over 70 years of separate governance, China views Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to use force to reclaim it.

The United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, remains Taiwan’s most significant partner and largest arms supplier. Lai is expected to strengthen defense ties with Washington during his term. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai and expressed a commitment to deepening ties and maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

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In response to the inauguration, Chinese state media reported sanctions on three US defense companies over arms sales to Taiwan. Chinese social media platform Weibo also blocked hashtags related to the inauguration to prevent them from trending.

Despite a lack of significant military activity around the island leading up to the inauguration, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office reiterated that “Taiwan independence and peace in the strait are like water and fire.” Chinese warplanes and naval vessels maintain a near-daily presence around Taiwan.

Lai and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim, both from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that advocates for Taiwan’s sovereignty, were labeled as an “independence duo” by China.

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Internationally, Lai’s inauguration was attended by eight heads of state from Taiwan’s 12 formal allies, alongside delegations from over 40 countries including the United States, Japan, and Canada. Taiwan, with its own government, military, and currency, is seen by most of its 23 million citizens as a distinct entity from China.

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Domestically, Lai faces challenges after the DPP lost its majority in the legislature in the January elections, complicating his ability to push through policies. Many Taiwanese are more concerned about domestic issues such as housing prices, living costs, and wages rather than the threat of conflict.

In his speech, Lai vowed to “expand investment in society” and ensure Taiwan becomes a “force for global prosperity,” addressing both international and domestic concerns.

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– AFP

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