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Lai Ching-te inaugurated as Taiwan’s president in a transition likely to bolster island’s US ties
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Lai Ching-te inaugurated as Taiwan’s president in a transition likely to bolster island’s US ties

  • PublishedMay 20, 2024



TAIPEI – Taiwan inaugurated Lai Ching-te as its new president Monday, installing a relative moderate who will continue the self-governing island democracy’s policy of de facto independence while seeking to bolster its defenses against China.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei for the ceremony. Donning white bucket hats, the attendees watched on large screens the ceremony’s emcees narrating Lai’s arrival. The swearing-in was to be followed outside by artistic performances and a military march.

Lai accepted congratulations from fellow politicians and delegations from the 12 nations that maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as well as politicians from the U.S., Japan and various European states.

Lai, also known by his English name William, has vowed to continue his predecessor’s push to to maintain stability between the sides while beefing up Taiwan’s security through imports of advanced fighters and other technology from close partner the U.S., the expansion of the defense industry with the manufacture of submarines and aircraft, and the reinforcing of regional partnerships with Taiwan’s unofficial allies such as the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

He takes over from Tsai Ing-wen, who led Taiwan through eight years of economic and social development despite the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s escalating military threats.

Lai, 64, is seen as inheriting her progressive policies, including universal health care, backing for higher education and support for minority groups, including making Taiwan the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages.

Lai, who was vice president during Tsai’s second term, came across as more of a firebrand earlier in his career. In 2017, he described himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence,” drawing Beijing’s rebuke. He has since softened his stance and now supports maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait and the possibility of talks with Beijing.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has been upping its threats to annex it by force if necessary.

Lai will build on Tsai’s efforts to strengthen ties with the U.S., which doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan as a country but is bound by its own laws to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

During Tsai’s tenure, Taiwan became the first society in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, though critics say she skirted political responsibility by leaving the decision up to the Supreme Court and a series of referendums.

She oversaw a controversial pension and labor reform and extended the military conscription length to one year. She also kickstarted a military modernization drive, including a program for building indigenous submarines at more than $16 billion each.

Tsai’s leadership during the pandemic split public opinion, with most admiring Taiwan’s initial ability to keep the virus largely outside its borders but criticizing the lack of investment in rapid testing as the pandemic progressed.

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