Taiwan election 2024: DPP senses victory in ‘perfect match’ Lai-Hsiao ticket but for Beijing it might ‘mean war’

The pair officially registered their candidacies the next day, as the island’s main opposition Kuomintang and the smaller Taiwan People’s Party failed to agree on a joint ticket to challenge Lai.

With her reputation as a calm, rational and highly capable politician who is highly regarded in the political, diplomatic and academic circles of Washington, Hsiao – a former legislator and a close confidante of incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen – is seen as a strong boost to Lai’s candidacy, Taiwanese observers said.

Hsiao Bi-khim is viewed as bringing diplomatic clout to the ticket, as well as being an appealing candidate for women and younger voters. Photo: Bloomberg

“They are complementary to each other,” said Wang Yeh-lih, a political-science professor at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

While Lai is experienced in domestic affairs and politics, Hsiao is well-versed in foreign affairs, Wang said, adding that her close connection with Washington could provide Lai with a smooth channel of communication with the US if he is elected president.

The US has remained Taiwan’s informal ally and biggest arms supplier even though it recognises Beijing diplomatically. Like other countries, the US does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state but is opposed to any unilateral change of the cross-strait status quo.

Wang said having Hsiao as a running mate would also help the 64-year-old Lai win greater support from women and younger voters.

Chang Chun-hao, a political scientist at Tunghai University in Taichung, said Hsiao had played a significant role in cementing US-Taiwan ties and increasing communication between them during her time in Washington.

“This greatly helps to enhance US understanding about Lai, especially after he vowed to continue Tsai’s policies if elected,” Chang said.

Taiwanese opposition stay deadlocked over joint ticket as deadline looms

Tsai, a three-time leader of the DPP, has refused to accept the “1992 consensus” on “one-China” agreed between Beijing and the then ruling KMT since she first took over as president in 2016.

She has, however, refrained from crossing the red line of declaring Taiwan independence, despite the suspension of cross-strait exchanges and persistent military intimidation from Beijing, which views Taiwan as breakaway territory that must be reunified.

Lai described himself as a pragmatic independence worker when he served as the island’s premier in 2017 – prompting Beijing to slam him as a pro-independence separatist.

Although Lai toned down his position after the DPP nominated him in April to run for president, the mainland-friendly opposition camp continues to imply he would be a “troublemaker” likely to stoke cross-strait tensions if elected.

Huang Huei-hua, senior researcher at Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, a Taipei think tank, said the US found the Lai-Hsiao ticket “acceptable” – given that Lai had tuned in to Washington’s “democracy vs authoritarianism” appeal to persuade the world to counter Russia and mainland China.

“The DPP had tried to use the ‘counter China to protect Taiwan’ strategy to win support from voters, but in vain. Lai then proposed ‘uphold peace to protect Taiwan’ to avoid the balance scale from tilting towards war,” she said, adding that this was in line with the global trend of attempting to preserve peace.

However, Huang said despite Lai’s proposal, “stormy cross-strait relations would be inevitable” if he became president.

“If he stands by his ‘uphold peace to protect Taiwan’ theory, what Lai should consider doing after he is elected is to refrain from pushing Taiwan to the brink of war,” she said.

Beijing has accused Lai of being a liar over his assertion that the chances of a cross-strait war would be minimal if he was elected.

Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, had earlier called a prospective Lai-Hsiao ticket a “union of pro-independence separatists”. She said “people who pursued Taiwan independence were essentially instigators of war” and it was “rascally” for Lai to lie like this.

“Taiwan independence means war,” Zhu told a news conference in Beijing on November 15.

US not ‘trustworthy’, say Taiwanese, but security commitment is solid: survey

Speaking in Taipei on Thursday, Hsiao said despite Beijing’s annoyance, Taipei remained open to dialogue.

“I think we have reiterated our position that we remain open to dialogue and we are also committed to the status quo.”

Hsiao, who was twice sanctioned by Beijing for being a pro-independence separatist, said it was also important that the international community “make clear to our counterparts across the Taiwan Strait that dialogue is the only way to resolve differences, and that war is not an option.”

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