Coal worker’s son now new president for Taiwan

Henry

Veteran politician Lai Ching-te, a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence”, will now step into the spotlight as the democratic island’s next president to navigate an increasingly turbulent relationship with China.

The 64-year-old Harvard graduate won at the polls on Saturday with a promise that he would defend Taiwan’s democracy and oppose China’s claims on the island.

His victory is an unprecedented third consecutive term for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and in his victory speech Lai described it as “a victory for the community of democracies”.

“We say to the international community that, between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy,” he said.

He undertook to pres. Tsai Ing-wen’s policies to strengthen Taiwan’s military capabilities continue as a defense deterrent against a possible invasion by China.

China regards Lai as a “stubborn worker” for Taiwan’s independence and a “saboteur of peace” and warned that the soft-spoken politician would be “the cause of war and decline” for the island.

Lai comes from a humble home, unlike most of Taiwan’s political elite. He was born in 1959 and was raised by their mother with five other brothers and sisters in a rural part of New Taipei after his father, a coal worker, died when Lai was a toddler.

He studied medicine at the National University of Taiwan and then obtained a master’s degree in public health at Harvard University. He was a senior doctor at a hospital in southern Taiwan before he turned to politics in 1996.

He was a lawmaker, a mayor of Tainan and a prime minister before he was chosen to become deputy president in President Tsai’s cabinet. He is now Tsai’s successor.

During his election campaign, Lai maintained that Taiwan “is already independent” and “does not need to formally declare itself separate from China”.

He is prepared to hold talks with China “on the condition of equality and dignity”. According to him, closer ties for economic progress cannot be traded for Taiwan’s sovereignty. “Accepting China’s ‘one-China principle’ is not real peace,” he said, referring to a Beijing doctrine that Taiwan is part of China. “Peace without sovereignty is just like Hong Kong. It is a false peace.”