Taiwanese Vice President William Lai struck a defiant tone toward China during a visit to the United States on Monday, vowing that the U.S.-backed island democracy won’t back down in the face of threats from Beijing.
Taipei “will uphold the values of democracy and freedom,” Mr. Lai, who is also the front-runner in Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election, said in remarks delivered amid rising Chinese threats to take control of the island, with military force if necessary.
“No matter how great the threat of authoritarianism is to Taiwan, we absolutely will not be scared nor cower,” he told an audience in New York, according to Reuters.
China’s ruling Communist Party has expressed outrage over Mr. Lai’s presence in the United States for the short visit that U.S. and Taiwanese officials describe as a “transit stop” rather than an official state visit. Beijing says such visits should be forbidden.
The Taiwanese Vice president met with supporters in New York Thursday en route to Paraguay to reinforce relations with Taipei’s last diplomatic partner in South America at a time when China is stepping up efforts to isolate the self-ruled island democracy.
Mr. Lai will attend the inauguration of Paraguay’s new president. The tiny South American nation is one of only 13 countries that still maintain formal ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan. Beijing is accused of using bribes and its economic clout to convince countries around the world not to engage in diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Mr. Lai is slated to make a second stop in the United States — in San Francisco — on his return from Paraguay later this week. Taipei and Washington both say the stopovers are routine, but China has denounced them and called Mr. Lai a separatist “troublemaker.”
The Chinese government has more broadly attacked Mr. Lai as part of what U.S. national security sources say is a mounting effort to meddle in Taiwan’s January 2024 presidential contest.
Mr. Lai is a member of independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party and is considered even more outspoken on the issue of independence than Ms. Tsai, who is stepping down after two four-year terms in Taipei. But he has said on the campaign trail he is not looking to change the current status of Taiwan.
Chinese officials are engaged in a campaign to “manipulate [the election] in their favor,” according to David Sauer, a retired CIA officer who served in multiple overseas command positions in East Asia and South Asia.
Beijing will expand its operation using “a combination of information warfare, military intimidation, political and economic manipulation,” Mr. Sauer said during a recent appearance on “The Washington Brief,” a monthly virtual forum hosted by The Washington Times Foundation.
He said China’s strategy is to “hollow out Taiwan from within” and “create chaos” around the election to seat a president who will push the island toward unification with the communist mainland.
Chinese media have portrayed Mr. Lai as bent on pushing for total Taiwanese independence from China, despite the fact that he and others in the current Taiwanese government have resisted such a policy, even as they engage in outspoken resistance to Beijing.
An editorial circulated late-last month by China’s official Xinhua News Agency stated: “It is a reasonable presumption that once in office, [Mr. Lai] would seize every opportunity to push de jure independence and take risks to challenge the one-China principle and the one-China policy that Washington has long adopted. Thus the Taiwan Strait will likely slip into the abyss of military confrontation.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.