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ELECTION 2024/President-elect Lai Ching-te promises to maintain cross-strait status quo

01/14/2024 12:08 AM
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President-elect Lai Ching-te (center) waves to supporters when President Tsai Ing-wen (left) gives a speech during the celebration of hte party's victory in the presidential race. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
President-elect Lai Ching-te (center) waves to supporters when President Tsai Ing-wen (left) gives a speech during the celebration of hte party's victory in the presidential race. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

Taipei, Jan. 13 (CNA) President-elect Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said Saturday night he would commit to working to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and urged Beijing to change its approach towards Taipei in this "new situation."

"It is my important responsibility, as president, to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," Lai told a press conference in Taipei, shortly after he and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) declared victory in the race for the country's two top jobs.

"I will act in accordance with the constitutional order of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official name), in a manner that is balanced and that maintains the cross-strait status quo," the 64-year-old president-elect said.

He added that while his administration would seek dialogue and engagement with Beijing, it remained "determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China."

Lai's remarks aligned with his election campaign pledges to continue implementing President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) cross-strait and foreign policies, which underscore the importance of upholding the status quo and expanding cooperation with democratic nations around the world.

He defended Tsai's policy as "steady" and "supported by the international community," in response to a question by a Bloomberg Television reporter about whether he would consider softening his approach towards China given his failure to win an absolute majority of the ballots cast on Saturday.

Lai received 5,586,019 votes, or 40.05 percent of the total, defeating main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜), who took 33.49 percent of the vote, and Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) of the smaller Taiwan People's Party (TPP), who garnered 26.46 percent, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

"Taiwan [under Tsai's leadership] did not engage in any provocative actions, [and] we only want to maintain a free and democratic way of life," Lai said.

He went on to urge Beijing, which has never positively responded to Tsai's repeated proposals to talk with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, to "recognize the new situation" and its responsibility for maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait.

The victory of Lai and Hsiao in the presidential race came as no surprise, as the DPP ticket had maintained a healthy lead in most of the opinion polls in the lead-up to election day.

However, the party failed to win an absolute majority in the legislative elections, also held on Saturday, after they took 51 of the 113 seats in the Legislature, 10 less than four years ago.

The result of the legislative elections showed that "we did not work hard enough" and that "there are areas we must humbly review and look back on," Lai said.

Nevertheless, Lai said he looked forward to working with the new hung Legislature and would seek to enhance "communication, consultation, participation and cooperation" with lawmakers from other political parties.

"I will carefully study the policies and positions of my two electoral opponents," he went on, "As long as they bring benefit to the people and further our national development, they will be incorporated into my policy framework."

He also vowed to build a "democratic alliance" by "bringing in talent from different political parties" in his administration, without elaborating on how he planned to achieve his goal.

Shen Yu-chung (沈有忠), a political science professor at Tunghai University in Taichung, expressed concern that Beijing would take a tougher line on the Lai administration and that cross-Taiwan Strait relations would be even frostier than they are at present.

At the same time, it will be more difficult for Taipei to navigate its relationship with both Beijing and Washington if the competition between the two superpowers continues to escalate, Shen observed.

Lai has on more than one occasion described himself as a "pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence," with the last instance taking place in 2017, when he was the country's premier, in charge of government administration.

He has toned down his rhetoric since 2020, however, when he took over as vice president, proclaiming that "Taiwan is already an independent sovereign country" and that there is "no need to declare independence."

As part of his pledges to continue President Tsai's cross-strait and foreign policy, Lai promised to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Despite having secured an unprecedented third consecutive four-year term for the DPP, Lai is now faced with some domestic challenges, one of which is that his party failed to win a majority of the seats in the legislative elections concurrently held Saturday.

According to Shen, it will be more challenging for the Lai administration to have its proposed budget plans and bills approved by the new Legislature, especially given that the president-elect is known for "not easily backing down."

The last time there was a hung Legislature in Taiwan was when the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in office, but at that time, the legislative speaker was Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a then-KMT heavyweight noted for brokering deals among different parties, Shen said.

(By Teng Pei-ju and Yeh Su-ping)

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