Taiwan’s vice-president launches his presidential campaign

Lai Ching-te is framing the contest as a choice about the island’s relationship with Beijing

Taiwan presidential candidate Lai Ching-te and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party with supporters after they formally launched their election campaign. Photograph: Sam Ye/AFP via Getty Images

Taiwan’s vice-president has formally launched his presidential campaign, framing the contest as a choice about the self-governing island’s relationship with Beijing. Lai Ching-te registered his candidacy on Tuesday, alongside his running mate, Taiwan’s former de facto ambassador to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim.

As the candidate of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Mr Lai is the favourite to succeed president Tsai Ing-wen, who cannot run for office again because of a two-term limit. He made clear that he would maintain his party’s hard line towards Beijing and its opposition to Taiwan’s reunification with mainland China.

“The people of Taiwan have to choose between trusting Taiwan, allowing Taiwan to continue to move forward on the road of democracy, and relying on China, following the old path of the one-China principle and walking into the embrace of China,” he told reporters.

Taiwan has been politically separate from mainland China since the end of a civil war that saw Mao Zedong’s Communist Party taking power in Beijing while the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taipei. Taiwan has never declared independence and the island has formal diplomatic relations with only 13 countries, although it has informal ties with many more including the United States and the European Union.

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Beijing cut off communications with Ms Tsai after she refused to accept the 1992 consensus that agreed there is only one China but acknowledged that the two sides could disagree about what it meant. Chinese state media this week described Mr Lai and Ms Hsiao as a “most dangerous pair” who would exacerbate tensions and “further push Taiwan into a dangerous, near-war situation, burying the peace and stability and lives of the island’s 23 million people”.

Mr Lai’s chances of winning the election on January 13th were boosted last Saturday when a deal between the two biggest opposition parties to run a joint ticket appeared to fall apart. The Kuomintang (KMT) which favours more engagement with Beijing and the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) said they needed further consultations to determine which party’s candidate would be the presidential candidate and which the vice-presidential.

The parties said they would use a combination of public and internal party polls to decide whether the KMT’s Hou Yu-ih or the TPP’s Ko Wen-je should top the ticket. The deadline for candidates to register is on Friday.

“I still think it is necessary for the main opposition parties to ally,” Mr Ko said. “We will think of a way to find the strongest ticket to win the election. This should be our goal.”

An opinion poll at the end of October put Mr Lai in the lead with 32 per cent, followed by Mr Hou on 22 per cent and Mr Ko on 20 per cent. Terry Hou, a billionaire who founded Apple supplier Foxconn, was on 5 per cent.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times