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Lai Ching-te, the troublemaking wild card for everyone

Reality Check


Editor's note: Lai Ching-te of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party has won the region's leadership election. His remarks advocating separatism in the past indicate a reckless streak, which, if followed up by actions, will set cross-Straits ties on a dangerous course. 

I want to read you an excerpt. It's from a Bloomberg interview with Lai Ching-te, the deputy leader of China's Taiwan region. Bloomberg asked  about his roadmap for Taiwan's "formal independence." He said, "no such framework exists." But he added, "we must work to maintain the peaceful status quo, because Taiwan is already a sovereign country." In his dreams…

See this: Lai's statement was both an oxymoron and unfaithful to himself. He has been chasing after "Taiwan independence" for years. He has said it before. He made headlines in 2017 by stating that he is "without a doubt" a politician supporting "Taiwan independence" and that he will never change this stance "no matter what office" he holds. He describes himself as a "pragmatic worker" for it.

In 2020, he ran against his boss for their party's nomination because he thought she needed to be more aggressive against the Chinese mainland.

"In fact, we are terrified of Lai Ching-te being elected because no matter what happens, he is still the 'inheritor' of 'Taiwan independence.' It will not be good for Taiwan because we don't want war. It's just that simple," said Mr. Liu, a retired teacher in Taiwan.

"What I care about now… is for our people to have better lives. Politicians should pay attention to people's lives," Mr. Lin, another retiree in Taiwan, told us in an interview.

Well, that's not necessarily Lai's focus. We all know from where Lai's remarks come. "Formal independence" is synonymous with war across the Taiwan Strait. As the candidate hoping to be the next leader of Taiwan, Lai has to be careful with his words.

So, you must surely see the word game here: No "formal independence" for Taiwan, but it's already a "sovereign country." Like the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. stated, Lai's words mean "peaceful separation" and "one China, one Taiwan." And he has been trying to do it by securing the support of an "ally" – the United States.

"Lai Ching-te's recent stopover is all about gearing up for his upcoming election. He wants to prove to Taiwan people that he has American backing," said Lai Yueh-tchienn, a Taiwan-based political scholar. Lai Ching-te's aim is to show the U.S. "I'm a 'Taiwan independence' supporter you can fully control." The U.S. is fine with "Taiwan independence" advocates, but only if they can be effectively managed.

Like I mentioned in the previous video, Lai's remarks about the Taiwan leader walking into the White House raised alarms in the United States. Officials from the State Department were eager to know whether they were going to see more "surprises" coming from Lai. And the Biden administration wants to avoid another "Chen Shui-bian type situation."

Lai is actually more dangerous.

Most people believe that the U.S. gave up Chen for two reasons: It wanted to avoid war with the Chinese mainland; and it needed the mainland's cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism.

The first condition still exists today; the second is very debatable. The United States now sees China as a hardcore geopolitical adversary. Today, it has more incentives to let Lai undermine the mainland's position so that Taiwan stays an effective pawn. But still, it wants to keep Lai in check so he doesn't drag the U.S. into another conflict.

It's a very hard balance to keep. Lai Ching-te will always be a wild card. And he will always be a troublemaker for everyone.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

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