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Taiwan will not back down to China in the face of threats and military drills, Vice President William Lai said over the weekend.
Lai briefly visited New York City on Sunday, where he made the comments, vowing Taiwan would continue to be free and democratic while pushing back on China’s constant aggression. Beijing has heavily criticized the presidential candidate over his visit, officially called a “transit” for diplomatic reasons, being labeled a “separatist” and “troublemaker.”
“When Taiwan is safe, the world is safe, and when there is peace on the Taiwan Strait, there will be world peace,” Lai said during a speech at a lunch banquet. “No matter how great the threat of authoritarianism is to Taiwan, we absolutely will not be scared nor cower, we will uphold the values of democracy and freedom.”
Last month, Chinese ambassador to the U.S. Xie Fang said it was the communist country’s “priority” to prevent Lai from visiting America. Lai’s stopover in New York occurred on his way to Paraguay for Tuesday’s inauguration of its new president, Santiago Peña. Paraguay is just one of 13 states to hold formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan; the U.S. does not.
“Lai stubbornly adheres to the separatist position of Taiwan independence and is a troublemaker through and through,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said after Lai arrived in New York. “China is closely following developments and will take resolute and vigorous measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The communist nation has previously followed through on these threats, performing extensive military drills after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited Taiwan in August 2022 and when President Tsai Ing-wen visited California and met with current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in April.
After the Tsai-McCarthy meeting, China conducted three days of military drills, including an exercise of an “encirclement” of Taiwan. David Gitter with the National Bureau of Asian Research told BBC News that it’s “very likely” that China will conduct military drills following Lai’s return, adding that the drills are “a boundary that Beijing once rarely crossed but has done so with increased frequency since Pelosi’s trip last year.”
Lai is currently a frontrunner in Taiwan’s presidential election, set to take place in January — President Tsai is currently finishing out her second term, the limit under Taiwan’s constitution. Lai has previously referred to himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence” and is part of the “deep green” faction of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is more inclined to support independence, according to CNN.
The outlet notes, however, that since winning his party’s nomination, he has taken a more moderate stance with regard to mainland China. Lai has reportedly denied claims that he is a pro-independence candidate, instead vowing to maintain the status quo and insisting that the Taiwanese people should decide their fate.