What does Lai Ching-te’s ‘pilgrimage’ to the US mean to the Taiwan island and its people?
Published: Aug 23, 2023 11:04 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Deceptive politicians don't miss any chance to raise their public fame and grab power. They pursue self-interest at the expense of the well-being of ordinary people. Lai Ching-te is a perfect case. 

As one of the local leaders of the Taiwan island, Lai cleverly planned his trip to Paraguay and used his transits through New York and San Francisco to meet some US officials. He was hoping to have a "highly visible" journey like Tsai Ing-wen, but only got a cold reception. 

Touting himself as a "pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence," the current deputy regional leader of Taiwan and chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had long been attacking the 1992 Consensus, which affirmed that the two sides across the Taiwan Straits both keep to the one-China principle. That makes him one of the few people in the island who do not favor a peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. A few days ago, Lai published an article in the Wall Street Journal to sell his petty idea of making all-out efforts to strengthen so-called "military deterrence." The op-ed was nothing but a tribute to his "master," and his transit through the US was just a stepping stone to obtain some sort of "legitimacy" bestowed by his patron. 

Nicknamed "political chameleon," Lai is opportunistic. When you check his political maneuvers in the past, it is so clear that he always puts personal gains above the interests of his party and the local people. Most people in Taiwan are alarmed by his crazy assertion of "Taiwan independence," fearing that his separatist attitude will eventually bring destruction to the island. Even some pro-DPP media expressed concern that Lai is turning the situation in the Taiwan Straits from a state of "cold peace" to a state of high instability. Lai is a troublemaker in almost everyone's eyes.

Then why on earth must this black sheep make a "pilgrimage" to the US? And more importantly, why do all the candidates for local election in Taiwan, such as Hou You-yi, candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT), and Terry Gou, Foxconn Technology Group founder who may run independently, have to rush to a country that claims to have no biased position on the election? Do they have to get America's consent or permission to run for office in their own hometown? Is this kind of "courtesy call" to the US a de facto "interview" to win approval from those who pull the strings behind the scene? 

Doesn't this contradict the portrayed image of the Taiwan island as a "model of democracy and freedom" when its regional leader has to be chosen according to the preference of a foreign "master"? Wouldn't it contradict America's claims of "no interference," "taking no sides," or "De-escalation of tension"?

For those still under the illusion that the US might be a helping hand, it's time to wake up. With its calculated "strategic ambiguity," the US sees Taiwan as a leverage to contain China's development. And this has and will continue to put the island and its people in harm's way.

Under DPP's charge, the Taiwan island followed the US in setting obstacles for economic and trade cooperation with the mainland. However, statistics from Taiwan authorities show that attempts of "decoupling" only resulted in sharp decrease of its trade volume and a grave shortage of certain supplies or daily commodities. Local people who make a living by doing business with the mainland suffered sharp decline of income. In June, Taiwan's imports and exports registered the biggest decline in 14 years.

Over the past six years, the DPP squandered $22 billion of taxpayers' money to buy expensive weapons from Washington. The fear-mongering slogan of "Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow" clamored by some US politicians aims to tie the island to the reckless chariot of "Taiwan independence." But if a hot war ever breaks out in the Taiwan Straits, it is the younger generations in Taiwan that would become their expandable pawns.

Obviously, what the US truly cares are not the livelihoods and interests of people in the island. All it needs is a leverage that allows it to control the fate of the island and stoke instability in the Taiwan Straits for its own gains. 

To seek "Taiwan independence" with US backing is like drawing water with a sieve, and plots of separatists like Lai will only hit a dead end. It's foolish to regard a schemer as your real friend, and it's shameful to forget your origin.

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, Global Times, China Daily, CGTN etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.