Lai walks dangerous tightrope in pushing Taiwan separatism with US connivance
Published: Aug 16, 2023 10:56 PM
DPP candidate Lai Ching-te. Photo: VCG

DPP candidate Lai Ching-te. Photo: VCG

The deputy regional leader of Taiwan island Lai Ching-te, via interviews with media, has tried to reshape his image of being an extreme Taiwan separatist into a "controllable and useful puppet for the US to contain China," as he recently claimed that he supports "maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Straits." The Chinese mainland countered that his statement proves that he and his ilk in Taiwan want "peaceful separation" - to keep the island separated from China forever and are using "peace" as an pretext, and that the mainland will not tolerate their tricks.

Lai, also a candidate of the separatist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for the 2024 Taiwan regional leader's election, is trying to play down his formally self-admitted identity as a "pragmatic Taiwan independence worker" by stressing his "responsibility" is to "maintain the status quo," according to his recent interviews with Bloomberg and some Taiwan media.

Lai keeps trying to use values like "democracy and freedom" to shield his goal of separatism, and claimed that the tension in the Taiwan Straits was "not originated" by the DPP authorities, but by the "assertiveness" of the mainland.  

Lai's fallacious remarks received strong pushback by the Chinese mainland. The Chinese Embassy in the US said in a statement released on Tuesday that Lai, driven by his own political agenda, makes no secret of his pursuit of "Taiwan independence." His separatist propaganda undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.

"He [Lai] is a troublemaker writ large. His so-called 'maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Straits' actually means 'peaceful separation' and 'one China, one Taiwan'. He talked about 'standing shoulder to shoulder with democracies,' which is his facade of seeking foreign support for independence agenda," said the statement. 

The fundamental cause of tension across the Straits is the Taiwan authorities' attempt to solicit US support for "Taiwan independence" and that some in the US are using Taiwan to contain China, said the Chinese Embassy in the US. 

Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Tuesday that Lai and his ilk, who trumpet "Taiwan independence" separatist rhetoric, will only push Taiwan to the brink of war.

Noting that Lai has used his "stopover" visit to the US to spread the "Taiwan independence" fallacy, Zhu said his words and acts once again prove that he is indeed a "worker for 'Taiwan independence'" and an out-and-out "troublemaker." The so-called "peace" demagoguery Lai preaches is an utter lie, Zhu said.

Cunning troublemaker

The reason Lai is trying to play down his separatist tone of seeking "formal independence" is that he wants to minimize pressure from both the US, as he has learned that Washington is unhappy with his extreme separatism, and the US, which is suffering from economic problems and endless and costly confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, does not have enough strength to back his unrealistic separatist dream, said Li Fei, a professor at the Taiwan Research Center at Xiamen University.

According to a report by the Financial Times on July 20, US officials asked the Taiwan authorities to clarify Lai's "contentious remarks about White House visits," highlighting doubts over his approach to relations with the Chinese mainland if he gets elected in 2024.

At a campaign event, Lai claimed his separatist view that when Taiwan's regional leader "can enter the White House, the political goal that we're pursuing will have been achieved." His statement may have worried the Biden administration which does not want to lose control of bilateral ties with China.  

This report by the FT has concerned Lai and his team, as the people in Taiwan started to believe that Lai and the DPP are losing support from the US, so now Lai has softened the tone and started to say words like "peace" and "status quo" more frequently. In other words, he wants to make Washington believe that "he is a controllable and useful puppet, and that he won't ruin the US' overall plan to compete with China," Li said.

However, Lai and the DPP will not be entirely abandoned by the US, said analysts, adding that the Biden administration might not identify Lai as "troublemaker" like what former US president George. W Bush did to previous Taiwan regional leader Chen Shui-bian in 2003. 

Yuan Zheng, a research fellow and deputy director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "The world in 2023 is very different from the world in 2003. The world is experiencing profound changes that have never seen in the past century."

In 2003, the US' priority was the "Global War on Terror," and the Bush administration needed China's cooperation in counterterrorism, so based on US interests, Bush identified Chen who had provoked the Chinese mainland with extreme separatist acts as a "troublemaker," analysts said.

But today, the US' priority is major power competition, and it has identified China as its top competitor. "Using the island of Taiwan to contain China" is a key part of the US policy toward China, so it is impossible to expect the US to see Lai and the DPP authorities as "troublemakers," as they need these "pawns" on its chessboard as long as they show loyalty and obedience to Washington, Yuan noted.

Embarrassing trick

Lai has now concluded his attendance at the inaugural ceremony of the new Paraguayan President Santiago Peña on Tuesday, as Paraguay is the only country in South America that still has the so-called "diplomatic ties" with the island.

According to Taiwan media, Lai, in order to increase his appearance and propagate Taiwan separatism, actively sought interactions with leaders and senior officials from other countries at the event, but some observers from Taiwan said Lai's acts are pointless and embarrassing as most leaders and officials of other countries will not change their diplomatic policies to support his dangerous and unrealistic separatism, even if they shook hands or talked with him for a few seconds.  

This exposes the false pride of Lai and his DPP authorities, and that their separatist stance has no room among the international community. Even the US dares not openly support or endorse their separatism, analysts said.  

"The separatist DPP authorities can only waste the money of Taiwan's taxpayers to buy so-called international appearance, and to maintain fragile 'diplomatic ties' with some countries, and these have nothing to do with the welfare and development of the island," a Taiwan-based expert on cross-Straits studies who asked for anonymity due to the concern of political prosecution by the DPP authorities told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Due to the dangerous separatist policy and hostile attitude toward the mainland, the DPP authorities have ruined cross-Straits relations since 2016, making the region increasingly tense, which has seriously harmed the interests of the Taiwan people, said the expert.

"So if the US keeps encouraging and supporting Lai and letting the DPP keep ruling the island, the future of the Taiwan Straits situation would be extremely dangerous, and Washington will surely be affected. Then US elites will eventually realize that the 'troublemaker' they chose is making real and huge troubles for them," he noted. 

Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu said Tuesday at the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security that the Taiwan question is an internal Chinese affair prohibiting external interference, with the reunification of China inevitable. Playing with fire on the Taiwan question and attempts to "contain China with Taiwan" are doomed to fail, according to the Xinhua News Agency.