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3 Key Challenges for the New Taiwan Administration of Lai Ching-te

After capturing only 40% of the vote in the Taiwan election, one key to tackling Taiwan's challenges will be Lai's ability to forge ties with the opposition.



The preliminary vote count is announced, bringing cheers at DPP headquarters in Taipei on the afternoon of January 13. (© Sankei by Kengo Matsumoto)

China aims to achieve hegemony in Asia. In that context, the just concluded presidential election in Taiwan amounted to a proxy battle with the United States. When all the ballots were counted, the candidate who emerged victorious was the self-proclaimed pro-American, Lai Ching-te

Lai wishes to keep China at arm's length. This means that Taiwan will continue to stand with the United States in its ongoing rivalry with China. He will maintain the line taken by the current president Tsai Ing-wen. In other words, Taiwan will continue to share values like freedom and democracy with like-minded nations in the West, which is comforting to those countries. 

Nonetheless, when the Lai administration is launched in May it will be confronted head-on with three difficult challenges. 

Taiwan presidential candidates appear on TV on December 20. Democratic Progressive Party's Vice President Lai Ching-te (center), Kuomintang's Mayor Hou Yu-ih of New Taipei (right), and Taiwan People's Party's Ko Wen-je, former mayor of Taipei. (©Central Election Commission via Kyodo)

1. DPP Only Captured 40 Percent of the Votes

The new president's first challenge is consolidation on the domestic front. In the 2020 presidential election four years ago, President Tsai won reelection in a landslide, taking 57% of the votes. Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan (equivalent to Japan's National Diet). 

Unlike Tsai, Lai's 40 percent of the vote means that he does not have the support of 60 percent of Taiwan voters. Consequently, the number of DPP seats in the Legislative Yuan will drop considerably. This will make the task of governing effectively much more difficult.

During her time in office, Tsai has been able to implement one unpopular policy after the next. That included allowing the import of pork products containing growth stimulants from the US. Furthermore, it included extending the term of mandatory military service for men. Tsai could do so because she was personally very popular and enjoyed a huge majority in the Legislative Yuan. As a result of her policies, Taiwan's diplomacy and security became much stronger. 

It will be difficult for the Lai Administration to act with such self-assurance. That led Lai to tell a post-election press conference, "I look forward to cooperating with the opposition." 

In the future, the key will be whether or not Lai can cooperate with a newly emerged third force, the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) led by Ko Wen-je.

A large screen in Beijing showing the news that China has started military exercises around Taiwan. April 8, 2023 (© Kyodo)

2. Reducing Tensions with China

Easing tensions with China will be another major challenge for the new administration. 

Chinese military aircraft have frequently flown near the Taiwan Strait in recent years. This has increased military pressure on Taiwan. Before the election, Lai made several comments, including saying during a TV program that he "would like to share a meal with Xi Jinping." These were designed to show his desire to improve relations with China. Quite clearly, however, China has said that it wants nothing to do with Lai. 

Two days before the presidential election, a spokesperson for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office castigated Lai as a "person who continues along an evil path." That office is under the State Council of China and the administrative agency responsible for policy on Taiwan.

Lai's ability to ease military tensions with China will be a major problem for him. Everyone will be keen to hear what message he will send to China during his inaugural speech on May 20. 

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan and then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy meet in the suburbs of Los Angeles,on April 5, 2023. (© Getty via Kyodo)

3. Ties of Trust with the United States

The third challenge Lai will face is how to maintain ties of trust with the United States. 

President Tsai is internationally known as an academic and a moderate. Unlike Tsai, Lai has been actively involved in the Taiwan independence movement since he was young. Also, many people around Lai are considered advocates of Taiwan independence. And they played a major role in this year's presidential election. 

Lai voiced no overt support for Taiwan independence during his campaign. However, the US, which wishes to see the "status quo" maintained in China-Taiwan relations, is wary of independence supporters. It would not like to see independence supporters within the DPP administration gaining sway. 

Therefore, the extent to which Lai appoints close confidants who strongly desire Taiwan independence will be a likely key point in determining the new administration's direction.


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author:  Akio Yaita, Taipei Bureau Chief, The Sankei Shimbun


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