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INTERVIEW/Vincentian leader praises Lai's speech as 'forward-looking'

05/22/2024 12:07 PM
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President Lai Ching-te (right) greets Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday at the Presidential Office in Taipei. CNA photo May 21
President Lai Ching-te (right) greets Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday at the Presidential Office in Taipei. CNA photo May 21

Taipei, May 22 (CNA) Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, has praised President Lai Ching-te's (賴清德) inauguration speech Monday as "impressive" and "forward-looking" and pledged to work with the new government to boost bilateral ties.

In an interview with CNA Tuesday, Gonsalves, who attended Lai's inauguration and is in Taiwan until Wednesday, said he read the English translation of Lai's speech and thus had a clear picture of the new president's vision.

"It is an impressive speech in which he outlined what are the challenges he sees within the domestic political economy of Taiwan and what are his priorities in addressing those challenges," the Vincentian leader said.

"It was a very forward-looking speech in terms of the changes he wants to see here."

Gonsalves pointed specifically to Lai's desire to build a green economy and a Taiwan that is "smart and sustainable" on the domestic front.

He also praised Lai's regional outlook, noting Lai's emphasis on regional alliances as a framework for security and Lai's "clear view" of China that was "realistic" and "without hostility."

In his speech Monday, Lai said Taiwan will continue engaging with democratic countries around the world as it works to bolster its defense capabilities under a "four-pillar plan" for peace, while also looking to foster a Taiwan that is "smart and sustainable."

He called on China to cease its political and military intimidation of Taiwan and share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the greater region.

On his personal interactions with Lai, Gonsalves said Lai is "a man with his feet on the ground politically" even though he has been in politics for a very long time.

The Vincentian politician said he spent around an hour and a half with Lai on Tuesday, during which he had "good discussion and rapport." Gonsalves called Lai "my friend William," referring to the president's English name, and described him as somebody who is easy to talk to.

"From the standpoint of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, we will build upon the work with the previous president and with Joseph...We will deepen, I'm sure, our existing very strong relations," Gonsalves said, referring to former President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮).

Wu will take over as National Security Council secretary-general in Lai's administration.

Gonsalves was among hundreds of guests from around the globe to attend Lai's inauguration and related activities.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Republic of China (ROC), the official name of Taiwan, established diplomatic relations on Aug. 15, 1981, and have remained allies even though Taiwan has lost 10 diplomatic allies to the People's Republic of China (PRC) over the past eight years due to deteriorating cross-strait relations.

Asked why his country has stuck with the ROC for more than 43 years through different administrations, Gonsalves told CNA his country's relations with Taiwan are "on the basis of a common set of values, interests."

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. CNA photo May 22
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. CNA photo May 22

He noted that official representatives from the PRC have visited him, but that he has not agreed with their viewpoint.

"I will say, look, you can't tell me that in order to have relations with you, I must cease having relations with another entity. I say you can, if tomorrow you drop your objection, we can have relations," he said.

"And then, purely at a personal level, I grew up in a family, I grew up in circumstances where loyalty and friendship count for something. If you're my friend, if you have a friendship going back a long time, you can come to me with your friendship," he said.

Gonsalves is the longest continuously serving head of government since St. Vincent and the Grenadines became independent in 1979.

He first became prime minister after his party won a majority in the 2001 general election. He has visited Taiwan 12 times, most recently in 2022.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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