Who is Taiwan’s new president, Lai Ching-te?

Following the eagerly awaited election on Saturday, Taiwan has chosen a new president. Against the backdrop of tensions between Beijing and Taiwan, the global community is closely monitoring the performance of the president-elect, Lai Ching-te.

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Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te, of Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP), holds a press conference, following the victory in the presidential elections, in Taipei, Taiwan January 13, 2024. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Despite the menacing threats of warnings and missiles from China, Taiwan remained unfazed as it elected a new president, Lai Ching-te, over the weekend. Ching-te, the former vice president of the island country, secured victory on Saturday, January 13, 2023.

Shaken by the devastation caused during the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, William Lai Ching-te, who was a doctor at the time, set aside his medical tools and vowed to free the people of the island from the grip of oppressors.

Reflecting on his decision, he stated in a campaign video, ‘Instead of criticizing the ruling government from my clinic, wouldn’t it be better to come out and follow the vanguards of the democratic movement and actually do something for Taiwan? I also thought that in this life, if I could find a project that makes me feel passionate to embark on, it would be a life worth living.’

‘I decided I had a duty to participate in Taiwan’s democracy and help protect this fledgling experiment from those who wished it harm,’ he wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2023.

William Lai’s political journey began in 1996 when he contested in the Legislative Yuan elections to become a legislator for Tainan City. He served in that capacity until 2010, having been given the mandate four consecutive times.

In 2010, Taiwan’s president-elect climbed up the political ladder by becoming the mayor of Tainan City. He was re-elected in 2014 and stayed in his position until 2017 when he was appointed by the incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen—the country’s first-ever female president—as the premier, replacing the outgoing premier, Lin Chuan. Subsequently, Lai Ching-te became the vice president, a position that brought him closer to his 1996 dream.

While these achievements make Lai’s political career appealing, they could mark the beginning of challenges, particularly in the context of the tensions between Taiwan and Beijing. He is set to be sworn into office on May 20, 2024, but analysts already predict a reign fraught with greater challenges from Beijing than any of his predecessors have encountered. For a country seeking the ‘unification’ of Taiwan within its administrative jurisdictions, China views Lai as a ‘troublemaker’ who describes himself as a ‘practical worker for Taiwan independence.’

During the reading of his victory speech on Saturday, Lai asserted his stance on an independent Taiwan, sharing with supporters, ‘The election has shown the world the commitment of the Taiwanese people to democracy, which I hope China can understand. At the same time, we’re also determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China.

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