Taiwan Swears in New President Amid Rising Tensions with China
Taiwan Swears in New President Amid Rising Tensions with China

On Monday, Taiwan's Lai Ching-te was sworn in as the new president of the democratic island, amid increasing military pressure from China and challenges from a hostile parliament.

Lai took over from Tsai Ing-wen in a ceremony watched closely by both China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and the United States, Taiwan's key ally and arms supplier. Lai is known for his strong defense of Taiwan's sovereignty, which has angered Beijing. During his four-year term, he plans to increase defense spending and strengthen ties with Washington to deter China from trying to take over the island.

China has always considered Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to use force if necessary to bring the island under its control.

Domestically, Lai faces another hurdle as his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its majority in the January elections, making it difficult to pass his policies through the legislature.

On Sunday, before his inauguration speech, Lai pledged to "continue on the path of democracy."

"We will keep engaging with the world to make Taiwan stronger," Lai, 64, stated. As he assumed office on Monday, Chinese state media reported that Beijing had imposed sanctions on three US defense companies for selling weapons to Taiwan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Lai, expressing his eagerness to deepen ties between Washington and Taipei and to maintain "peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Celebration and Support

The inauguration ceremony took place at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei, built during the Japanese colonial era. Lai's deputy, Hsiao Bi-khim, was also sworn in. Eight heads of state and representatives from 51 international delegations, including the United States, Japan

and Canada, attended the ceremony, showcasing support for Taiwan's democracy.

Over a thousand performers participated in the celebrations, which included traditional operas, dances, and an Air Force aerial display to honor the new president.

Lai and Hsiao, both from the DPP, have been strong advocates for Taiwan's sovereignty. Lai's inaugural speech was closely examined for indications of how he will manage the sensitive relationship with Beijing. While Lai has described himself as a "pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence" in the past, he has recently moderated his stance, promising to maintain the "status quo" on the Taiwan Strait—preserving Taiwan's sovereignty without formally declaring independence.

Before the inauguration, China's Taiwan Affairs Office likened the pursuit of Taiwan independence to a conflict as irreconcilable as "water and fire." Although Chinese warplanes and naval vessels frequently operate near Taiwan, there was no significant increase in their presence in the days leading up to Lai's inauguration. Taiwan's defense ministry reported detecting six Chinese aircraft and seven vessels around the island in the 24 hours leading up to 6:00 am on Monday.

Lai has expressed a willingness to resume high-level communications with China, which were cut off in 2016 when Tsai took office, but experts believe Beijing is unlikely to respond favorably.

Taiwan's International Position and Domestic Concerns

With only 12 formal allies, Taiwan lacks widespread diplomatic recognition. Despite Washington switching its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the US has remained Taiwan's most significant partner and arms supplier.

Taiwan operates with its own government, military, and currency, and most of its 23 million residents identify as distinctly Taiwanese, separate from Chinese identity.

Shen Yujen, a 24-year-old serving his four-month military duty, said, "I think it is better not to be too close to China or too far away from China—it is better to maintain a neutral feeling."

However, many Taiwanese are more concerned about domestic issues like high housing prices, rising living costs, and stagnant wages than the threat of conflict. "If war should break out, there would be little I could do," said Jay, a 20-year-old student, while taking a photo of the Presidential Office.

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