Taiwan presidential candidate William Lai pledges to protect island against China

Taiwan's Vice-President William Lai said Taiwan stood on the front lines of democracy. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - The candidate likely to represent the ruling party at Taiwan’s next presidential election, Vice-President William Lai, pledged on Wednesday to protect the island against China and ensure peace, as he formally registered to run in the campaign.

Mr Lai is the front runner to be the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate in next January’s presidential election.

He assumed the DPP’s chairmanship in January, after President Tsai Ing-wen resigned in November following the DPP’s trouncing at local elections.

Ms Tsai cannot run again as president due to constitutional term limits.

Speaking at the party’s headquarters as he registered to run as its candidate in its election primary, Mr Lai said Taiwan stood on the front lines of democracy.

“Taiwan is in a key geographic position in the first island chain of the Indo-Pacific, directly facing China’s verbal and military threats, diplomatic suppression through unscrupulous means and the various threats of their double strategy of wanting peace and playing war,” he told reporters.

“We have to be unified, continue to strengthen Taiwan, protect the democratic front line and ensure Taiwan’s security.”

The DPP says that a primary will be held if there are two or more candidates.

Mr Lai is by far the favourite to win the nomination.

As in the last election in 2020, which the DPP won handily by promising to stand up to China, relations with Beijing are likely to top the agenda for 2024 especially as China ramps up pressure to get Taiwan to accept Chinese rule.

Mr Lai angered China in 2018 while he was premier, telling Parliament he was a “Taiwan independence worker” and that his position was that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country – a red line for Beijing.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

Asked about those comments in January upon becoming party chairman, Mr Lai said he was committed to following Ms Tsai’s policy that includes stating that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and that the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – and the People’s Republic of China are “not subordinate to each other”.

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which traditionally favours close ties with Beijing, has not decided on its presidential candidate yet. REUTERS

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