21 April 2019
William Lai has aroused interest mainly because of his controversial 'pro-China while Taiwan-loving' stance. Photo:
William Lai has aroused interest mainly because of his controversial 'pro-China while Taiwan-loving' stance. Photo:

Is William Lai trying to square the circle here?

On Sept. 26, William Lai Ching-te, former mayor of Tainan city and Taiwan’s new premier — officially known as the president of the Executive Yuan — appeared before the Legislative Yuan for the first time in his new capacity to lay down his policy agenda.

Lai has aroused interest mainly because of the controversial and paradoxically bizarre political slogan he coined in June this year when he was Tainan mayor: “pro-China while Taiwan-loving”.

The slogan has intrigued a lot of people because “pro-China” and “Taiwan-loving” appear to be mutually exclusive.

Perhaps well aware that he could no longer afford to remain ambiguous over cross-strait relations as the premier, Lai finally went into detail about how his idea actually works during his appearance at the Yuan on Wednesday.

According to him, “pro-China while Taiwan-loving” simply means “reaching out to Beijing and facilitating cross-strait reconciliation through dialogue and exchange while having Taiwan’s best interests at heart”.

Lai’s latest stance apparently represents a radical departure from the conventional position held by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to which he belongs.

While it remains to be seen how Beijing is going to react to his remarks and whether his new idea can help ease the ongoing political standoff between Beijing and Taipei and improve cross-strait relations, his words, which are widely seen as a gesture of goodwill and an embrace of the status quo, at least didn’t make the situation worse.

Besides, his pledge did, to some extent, made the DPP appear less hostile to the mainland.

Moreover, his innovative approach to Beijing-Taipei relations has also unlocked people’s imagination about how things across the strait might play out in the days ahead.

However, there is also a view that Lai’s statement on relations with Beijing is indeed nothing more than a carefully calculated move to broaden his own support base and allow himself to appeal to a wider demographic, particularly moderate and centrist voters, as everybody knows he is eying the 2020 presidential election.

While there is a lot of doubt over the feasibility of his suggestion of being “pro-China and Taiwan-loving”, we believe Lai does stand a substantial chance of advancing his political career if he manages to unite his people behind him with his new idea.

But still, at the end of the day, it all depends on whether Beijing would buy into what he said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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