TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive Party nominated Vice President Lai Ching-te as its candidate in the 2024 presidential election, two days after China concluded large-scale wargames around the self-governed island.
At a nominating event Wednesday, Lai said he would continue to assert Taiwan’s right to international recognition while boosting its high-tech economy and promoting an efficient government.
“We must definitely continue to improve Taiwan’s investment environment,” Lai, also known as William Lai, told reporters.
His most challenging task, however, will be dealing with threats from China, which considers Taiwan its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
“A war over Taiwan would be a global disaster,” Lai said. “As long as China maintains its military threats against Taiwan, we must continue to strengthen our national defense.”
Originally trained as a physician with a master’s in public health from Harvard, Lai, 63, was a legislator, mayor of the southern city of Tainan and Taiwan’s premier before challenging President Tsai Ing-wen for the party’s presidential nomination in 2019.
After Tsai won the primary, Lai accepted her offer to be her running mate and the pair easily defeated the main opposition Nationalist Party in 2020.
Tsai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
It remains unclear who Lai will face in January’s election, with the Nationalists, also known as the KMT, yet to name a candidate. Among those most favored are businessperson Terry Gou who founded electronics manufacturer Foxconn, and New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih who was formerly a top police official.
The Nationalists ruled Taiwan under martial law for decades after Chiang Kai-shek moved his government to the island as Mao Zedong’s Communist Party seized power in mainland China in 1949 amid a bloody civil war.
Democratic reforms were introduced gradually after Chiang’s 1975 death and direct presidential elections were held for the first time in 1996. The DPP and Nationalists have alternated in power, although Tsai’s initial 2016 election also marked the first time the DPP assumed a legislative majority.
Under nationalist leader Xi Jinping, China has vastly strengthened its armed forces and routinely sends warships and planes into the air and waters near Taiwan.
That threat was on display most recently as China’s People’s Liberation Army staged large-scale wargames over three days from Saturday, simulating an encirclement of the island in a response to a meeting April 5 in California between Tsai and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
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