Lai Ching-te: from coal miner’s son to Taiwan president

Published May 21, 2024
President Lai Ching-te waves as he delivers his inaugural speech after being sworn into office, on Monday.—AFP
President Lai Ching-te waves as he delivers his inaugural speech after being sworn into office, on Monday.—AFP

TAIPEI: President Lai Ching-te’s roots can be traced to a humble coal-mining town, in Taiwan. On Monday, he assumed Taiwan’s highest office (the presidency). The president now faces the challenge of navigating ‘widening rifts’ (with an increasingly assertive China) and grappling with a ‘fractious parliament’ at home.

The Harvard graduate ascended to the presidency after the January elections. The 64-year-old pledged to ‘defend Taiwan’s democracy’ and ‘resist Beijing’s claims on the island’.

In his inaugural speech, Lai called upon Taiwanese citizens to “come together to safeguard our nation”, against China’s threats to bring the island under its control.

“We must demonstrate our resolution to defend our nation” he stated, whilst simu­ltaneously ‘warning’ that Taiwan “must not harbour any delusions” about Beijing’s goal.

Lai vowed to continue the policies of his predecessor (Tsai Ing-wen). Tsai Ing-wen had a pivotal role in building up Taiwan’s military capabilities, to act as a deterrent against a ‘potential invasion from China’.

Lai’s characteristic of being ‘outspoken’ (which he has moderated in recent years), has drawn Beijing’s ire. China regards him as a “stubborn worker” for Taiwan’s independence and a “saboteur of peace”. Beijing ‘warns’ that the veteran politician would be the cause of “war and decline” for the island.

Whilst Lai has made repeated overtures to resuming dialogue with China (severed since 2016), he is likely to be ‘rebuffed’. Beijing “will not respond positively to him any more than it did to Tsai” stated Steve Tsang, who is the director of the ‘SOAS China Institute’, in London.

“The real issue is how Lai will adjust his approach, once the open arm he is likely to extend to Beijing is met with a cold, or worse response.” Unlike the rest of Taiwan’s political elite, Lai rose through the ranks of civic life in the country. He is originally from an ‘extremely humble background’.

Born in the year 1959, Lai was raised by his mother, along with five other siblings. He spent the early years of his life in a ‘rural hamlet’, in New Taipei City. His father (who was a coal miner), died when he was just a toddler.

After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in public health, he worked in a hospital in southern Taiwan. In 1996, Lai turned his attention towards politics.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Price bombs
Updated 18 Jun, 2024

Price bombs

It just wants to take the easy route and enjoy the ride for however long it is in power.
Palestine’s plight
Updated 17 Jun, 2024

Palestine’s plight

While the faithful across the world are celebrating with their families, thousands of Palestinian children have either been orphaned, or themselves been killed by the Israeli aggressors.
Profiting off denied visas
Updated 19 Jun, 2024

Profiting off denied visas

The staggering rejection rates underscore systemic biases in the largely non-transparent visa approval process.
After the deluge
Updated 16 Jun, 2024

After the deluge

There was a lack of mental fortitude in the loss against India while against US, the team lost all control and displayed a lack of cohesion and synergy.
Fugue state
16 Jun, 2024

Fugue state

WITH its founder in jail these days, it seems nearly impossible to figure out what the PTI actually wants. On one...
Sindh budget
16 Jun, 2024

Sindh budget

SINDH’S Rs3.06tr budget for the upcoming financial year is a combination of populist interventions, attempts to...