Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

a difficult start amid tensions with China – The Irish Times

By Vaseline May30,2024

Taiwan’s new president, William Lai, has had a turbulent first week in office. He faced a serious threat to his authority from domestic opposition and military intimidation from Beijing. The parliamentary deadlock has led to tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in support of the president, but has also highlighted the challenges he faces.

Lai won last January’s presidential election with 40 percent of the vote in a three-way contest, but his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its parliamentary majority. The Kuomintang (KMP) have allied with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and two independent parties to form a majority in the legislative yuan.

This week, lawmakers passed a law that strengthens parliamentary oversight of the executive branch, allowing the creation of investigative committees with sweeping powers to gather information. As a result, Lai will be forced to answer questions from lawmakers.

Some elements of the new law are similar to proposals put forward by the DPP when they were in opposition. But it also creates a new charge of contempt of parliament, which could see ministers and officials jailed if their parliamentary testimony is inaccurate or inadequate.

Protesters were angry at both the content of the legislation and the way it was pushed through parliament. Many of those who took to the streets were veterans of the 2014 Sunflower Movement, when students occupied parliament to protest an attempt to strike a new trade deal with mainland China.

At his inauguration last week, Lai pledged to unite the self-governing island and called on Beijing to work with him in the interests of peace. But he took a tougher tone in relations between Strasbourg citizens than that of his popular predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, who walked a delicate line as she defended Taiwanese autonomy but sought to avoid confrontation with Beijing.

Lai said Taiwan and the mainland were “not subordinate to each other,” a formulation that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took as a declaration that they were separate countries. And he left out Tsai’s usual references to agreements that reassured Beijing that it did not want to interfere with the status quo.

Chinese authorities responded to Lai’s speech with a two-day military exercise around the island, involving fighter jets carrying live ammunition and warships simulating a blockade. It was explicitly announced as a punishment for Lai.

Beijing’s aggressive action was an unjustifiable attempt to intimidate Lai upon taking office, rather than engaging diplomatically with the new president. But Lai also discovers the limits of his mandate, the need to work with the new parliamentary majority and the wisdom of his predecessor’s subtle approach to relations between the two countries.

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