Taiwan people call for peace as secessionist Lai to formally take office
Before US presidential election, 'cross-Straits tension unlikely to be further escalated'
Published: May 19, 2024 10:10 PM
Condoning separatist forces means stocking flames in the Taiwan Straits. Cartoon:Carlos Latuff

Condoning separatist forces means stocking flames in the Taiwan Straits. Cartoon:Carlos Latuff

Taiwan regional leader-elect and head of the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Lai Ching-te, who won the island's election in January with only 40 percent of the vote, is scheduled to formally take office on Monday. 

Many Taiwan people, including members of the opposition parties, have urged Lai not to further provoke the Chinese mainland by pushing hostile and secessionist policies against the mainland and cause more tensions for the region.

Some observers on the island are concerned that the Taiwan authorities will be more ruthless in cracking down on local pro-reunification activists, and will further distort the history text books in Taiwan's schools and manipulate the media to cut off the historical connections with the mainland, as well as eliminate their identity as Chinese in the minds of Taiwan youth, making the possibility of peaceful reunification further shrink.

According to local media in Taiwan, a protest to condemn the "Green Terror" executed by the DPP authorities was held in Taipei on Sunday. 

Green is the color of the DPP authorities, and many people who are dedicated to cross-Straits cooperation and peaceful exchanges, and who disagree with the DPP's secessionist stance, have been prosecuted by the DPP authorities in recent years, so there is a saying that the DPP is imposing "Green Terror" against the people on the island. 

The protesters urged Lai to ensure the cross-Straits peace and called for adherence to the one-China principle. They condemned the DPP authorities for harming the peace between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits and damaging the democracy of Taiwan island by building "Taiwan secessionist fascism" to prosecute people who support reunification and cross-Straits cooperation and exchanges, media reported. 

Analysts from both sides of the Taiwan Straits held that Lai's behavior will be determined by the competition between China and the US. On the one hand, the Chinese mainland will maintain its military pressure to deter secessionism and increase its military and law-enforcement measures if necessary to respond to any potential provocations, and the overwhelming military advantage held by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the region is the key factor to prevent the troublemakers and foreign forces from separating the island from China.   

On the other hand, the Joe Biden administration cannot afford to another geopolitical crisis in the Asian-Pacific region when it is already suffering from the crises in Ukraine and Gaza, so Washington will also make efforts to ensure that the secessionist regional leader will not be over-provocative and create troubles that could risk a loss of control.     

Wang Zhenwei, director of the Institute of Politics under the Taiwan Research Center at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Sunday that although Lai is more extreme than his predecessor, due to the strength of the Chinese mainland and pressure from the US, Lai is unlikely to show extreme hostility toward the mainland.

"Before the US presidential election has a clear result, Lai is likely to ensure that the existing tensions don't escalate," Wang noted.  

However, experts cautioned that normally the DPP leaders, such as Chen Shui-bian and Tsai Ing-wen, will always be circumspect around the time of the inaugurations for the regional leaders, but after they take power, they will become more and more provocative. Lai is unlikely to be an exception, so in the long term, the state of cross-Straits relations will not be optimistic. 

Lei Chien, member of the National Women's League (in Taiwan) and a former member of the legislative authority on the island, told the Global Times that Lai is a politician with a tough personality, so he will push back against any pressure, whether it comes from Washington or the mainland. However, he will need to ensure he has effective control first so he will not offend the US too much, and during his first 100 days, he will likely take concrete actions. 

Lei noted that "the mainland at this stage has changed its strategy for handling cross-Straits relations from preventing secessionism to promoting reunification. So the mainland will be more active and its strategy will not be affected by a few specific incidents. The new authorities of the island will have very few chips to gamble with the mainland."

Media in Taiwan noted that the PLA intensified warplane and warship activities around the island shortly ahead of the scheduled inauguration of Lai on Monday.

A scholar on the island reportedly said that the Chinese mainland has significantly increased military pressure as the inauguration day approached, with newly emerging features such as "intentional warplane approaches to the island," an "increased number of warships routinely deployed around the island" and "the normalization and combat-orientation of joint warplane and warship patrols."

Citing data released by the defense authority on the island, observers said that the number of PLA aircraft and vessels spotted around the island were above average recently, with 45 aircraft and six vessels reported on Wednesday, 27 aircraft and seven vessels on Thursday, eight aircraft and eight vessels on Friday, 18 aircraft and four vessels on Saturday, and seven aircraft and seven vessels on Sunday.

The PLA holds regular patrols and combat exercises around the island of Taiwan, with the aim to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity and deter "Taiwan independence" separatists, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Sunday.

If Lai insists on making irresponsible secessionist moves, forcing the mainland to resolve the question by force, the PLA is always ready, the expert said.