TAIPEI, May 19 — President-elect Lai Ching-te took leaders from some of Taiwan’s handful of remaining diplomatic allies shrimping today, a day before he takes office and has to deal with China which believes the island has no right to the trappings of a state.

Lai, detested by Beijing as a “separatist”, is expected to pledge to secure stability by maintaining the status quo in the island’s relationship with China in his inauguration speech on Monday.

Beijing views proudly democratic Taiwan as its own territory, over the strong objections of the government in Taipei, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Only 12 countries now maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, mostly poorer developing nations such as Paraguay, Eswatini, Palau and St Lucia.

Advertisement

Taiwan has faced a sustained campaign from China, which snatched back Nauru from Taiwan shortly after Lai won election in January, to get the remaining allies to recognise Beijing.

“We will work with all sides to build a nation of prosperity and maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said at the covered shrimp fishing pond in Taipei’s foothills, shrimping being a popular Taiwanese leisure activity.

“And Taiwan is not alone. We have been working with international friends like you all who also uphold the values of democracy, freedom and human rights,” he added, speaking in English.

Advertisement

Lai was seated next to Eswatini’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch, whose country was rocked by violent pro-democracy protests in 2021.

Lai hugged Paraguay President Santiago Pena as he arrived.

Since winning election in January, Lai, 64 and widely known by his English name William, Taiwan has faced on-going pressure from China, including regular air force and navy activities close to the island.

Also in attendance on Monday will be former US officials dispatched by President Joe Biden, and lawmakers from countries including Britain, Japan, Germany and Canada.

Last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Lai, who it called the “Taiwan region’s new leader” had to make a clear choice between peaceful development or confrontation.

His domestic challenges loom large too, given his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its parliamentary majority in the January election.

On Friday, lawmakers punched, shoved and screamed at each other in a bitter dispute over parliamentary reforms the opposition is pushing.

There could be more fighting on Tuesday when lawmakers resume their discussions. — Reuters