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Monday, December 4, 2023

Taiwan’s pres’l frontrunner picks US envoy as running mate

TAIPEI – Taiwan’s presidential frontrunner Vice President Lai Ching-te said Monday he had picked the island’s former envoy to the United States as his running mate for January’s election.

The lead-up to the January 13 vote comes as Taiwan faces increased diplomatic and military pressures from China, which regards the island as its territory.

The candidate from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Lai said he would be joined on the ticket by Hsiao Bi-khim, Taipei’s de facto ambassador to the United States since 2020.

Hsiao, 52, is widely regarded in Washington and Taipei as a well-connected and savvy diplomat but is seen by China as an “independence diehard”, and Beijing has previously sanctioned her twice.

Lai said Hsiao “has facilitated unprecedented close interactions in Taiwan-US relations in the past years.”

“I believe that Bi-khim is definitely a leader in Taiwan’s diplomatic work today and a rare diplomatic talent in our country,” he said.

“I am confident that together with Bi-khim, we will succeed in the final 50 days to unite the consensus of the people and unite all forces to win the election, and allow Taiwan to continue to grow on a steady path forward.”

Taiwan’s foreign ministry also announced it had accepted Hsiao’s resignation as the representative to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington.

While the United States does not diplomatically recognise Taiwan, it is the island’s most prominent ally and arms supplier.

Last September, a US Senate committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act, allowing Washington to provide Taipei security assistance to the tune of $4.5 billion over four years.

The legislation also laid out sanctions on China should it use force to try and seize the island.

Bonnie Glaser, an expert on Taiwan-China affairs at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Hsiao “stands out as doing a really outstanding job in… advancing the interests of Taiwan”.

“She understands how Congress works, its key role in supporting Taiwan, but also how to work with the executive branch and Congress at the same time,” Glaser told AFP, adding that Taiwan “loses something” by having Hsiao leave Washington.

To Taiwanese voters, Hsiao joining Lai’s ticket would represent the party’s platform to “resist China”, said Chang Chun-hao, a political scientist at Taiwan’s Tunghai University.

“Hsiao serving as Lai’s running mate can create a powerful effect in anti-China and pro-US issues,” he told AFP. “Hsiao not only represents Taiwanese ideology but she also has a pro-US role.”

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office last Wednesday blasted the Lai-Hsiao pairing as an “independence duo”.

“I think every Taiwanese compatriot is very clear on what the (Lai-Hsiao) ticket means for this situation across the Taiwan Strait, what it means for the lives of the Taiwanese people, and what it means for Taiwan’s future and fate,” said spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian, without elaborating further.

In the race is also Taiwan’s leading pro-Beijing political group, the Kuomintang, and the less established Taiwan People’s Party. Both have pledged warmer ties with China if elected.

The two parties had last week tentatively agreed on an alliance to thwart Lai, but negotiations stalled over the weekend over which party’s candidate would run for president.

All parties have until November 24 to formally register their candidates for the poll.

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