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China, East Asia and the Pacific Studies
Taiwan President’s Inaugural Address: Four Takeaways

  Akhil Ajith

On 20 May, Lai Ching-te was sworn in as the 16th President of the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan. Lai is the successor to former Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who led Taiwan for eight years or two terms. He belongs to the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), which has won the recent 2024 elections but failed to secure a majority in the parliament. Currently, the opposition party, led by Kuomintang (KMT), has the majority in the Legislative Yuan.

Click here for the speech.

Following are four key takeaways from his speech:
1. Internally, seeking support from all political parties and building consensus in law-making
Lai-led DPP government faces a huge challenge in bringing in legislative changes due to its lack of majority in the parliament which KMT is holding. In his speech, he seeks a joint consensus for rational governance involving shared ideas and cooperation. He emphasizes people’s and national interests as supreme over the party’s interests and asks the opposition to work together in accordance with the constitution. He stresses further for greater cooperation between the legislative and executive bodies for the smooth functioning of the government. 

2. Peaceful and stable ties with China
The new President also stresses the need for a status quo in the Taiwan Strait. He cites the case of World War II and the Russia-Ukraine war to highlight the losses that a country has to face in a large-scale war. With this, Lai notes the relevance of Taiwan’s geostrategic location as the first Island chain and the negative effects of it on global security if Taipei faces any major crisis. He asserts the need for a peaceful coexistence between China and Taiwan for mutual prosperity. However, he notes the need to strengthen the country’s defence and national security through “four pillars of action: strengthened national defence; improved economic security; stable and principled cross-strait leadership; and values-based diplomacy.” He warns fellow Taiwanese citizens to be cautious of China’s peace calls as its goal of Taiwan’s annexation will happen even after they agree to China’s interests. For this, Lai calls for the country to work towards peace through strength by demonstrating deterrence capability and preventive war.

3. Taiwan is confident, international, and forward-looking, says Lai
In his speech, Lai projects Taiwan’s goals and aspirations to play a meaningful role in global governance. He cites the case of semiconductors and AI and Taiwan’s critical role in the sector's supply chains. He also mentions Taiwan’s industrial capacity and the need to push towards global prosperity, thereby enhancing Taiwan’s image as a reliable and critical industrial and trading partner for the world. He highlights Taiwan’s interest in leading the climate change goals by working towards net zero emissions as a leading example. He cites the importance of critical technology, quantum computing, robotics, the metaverse, precision medicine, etc., and the need for further investment in making Taiwan a leading player globally. 

4. Democracy as a medium to build new partnerships
Lai mentions Taiwan’s democratic model and governance as a role model for the rest of the world. He links democracy to establishing deep partnerships with countries of similar values for mutual benefits. He cites the example of the legalization of same-sex marriage and the successful fight against COVID-19 to display Taiwan’s democratic model. Although he did not mention any particular country, he mentions the vibrancy of democracy in the country’s internal affairs through transparency, meritocracy, and free speech. Through democracy, Taiwan desires to gather international recognition through participation in the presidential inaugural ceremony and economic links. This is seen as a way to enhance Taiwan’s legitimacy on the international stage. 

5. Redressing and sympathizing with the people’s concerns
Lai mentions the benefits of economic development that can be shared among all sections of society. For this, he plans to launch the National Project of Hope, where the investment will benefit young and elderly people. He promises greater governmental support for all social services, including childcare, long-term care, and social housing services. He also promises to enhance food and other social security alongside education and judicial reforms. He also mentions plans to drive better economic opportunities with increased pay and a better working environment. He seeks to crack down on corruption, organized crimes, and other fraudulent activities. He mentions the concern about financing labour insurance and the need for better facilities for Taiwan’s workforce. He also calls for Taiwan’s resilience in the healthcare sector by responding effectively against infectious diseases, citing the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. He further stresses support for gender equality, digital innovation, and better social services for a balanced development. 

References:
Inaugural Address of ROC 16th-term President Lai Ching-te,” Office of the President Republic of China (Taiwan). 20 May 2024

Chong ja Ian, “Commentary: Reading between the lines of Taiwan President William Lai’s inauguration speech,” CNA, 27 May 2024)

Christopher Bodeen and Simina Mistreanu, “Taiwan’s new President Lai in his inauguration speech urges China to stop its military intimidation,” Associated Press, 20 May 2024)


The commentary is originally published as a part of the China Reader Daily Wire. The CRDW is a flagship publication of NIAS Area Studies - China, East Asia and Pacific, with individual verticals on China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Australia. To know more click here.

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