Taiwan's new president has four years not to be the man who went to war with China

Thousands of people gathered for William Lai's inauguration ceremony, but there are tense times ahead for his premiership, as ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward reports

For the next four years, William Lai will be doing all he can to prevent his name from going down in history as the man who went to war with China.

And, although the 16th term President of Taiwan described peace as the only option in his inauguration speech, he also used his first address in office to issue a direct warning to Beijing to cease its political and military intimidation of the island.

He said the future of cross-strait relations would have a decisive impact on the world.

It was a stronger statement than expected, drawing distinct battle lines between democratic and authoritarian rule.

He antagonised the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by describing Taiwan as a sovereign, independent nation.

Members of an honour guard march during the inauguration ceremony of Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te in Taipei, Taiwan. Credit: AP

The Chinese government insists Taiwan, which is officially called the Republic of China (RoC), is part of ‘One China’.

The CCP states that the RoC will soon be reunified with the motherland and that it is not, and never will be independent.

Before coming to Taipei for Monday’s inauguration I received a phone call from the Chinese Foreign Ministry to remind me of the One China Principle, that Taiwan is a province of China and as such has no independent status.

I was told that President Lai - also known as Lai Ching-te - should be referred to as a local or provincial leader.

Although the British government and Taiwan both have de facto embassies in each other’s capitals, the UK does not officially recognise the democratically elected government in Taipei.

However, last year, the foreign affairs committee issued a document stating that Taiwan "possesses all the qualifications of statehood".

China has warned the British government about its deepening business ties with Taiwan, including the export of submarine parts and technology to help modernise its naval forces.

China has warned the British government over deepening ties with Taiwan. Credit: AP

There are just twelve countries which officially recognise Taiwan as an independent state and many of them were represented at the inauguration ceremony on Monday.

The number of countries on that list has been dwindling in recent years as Beijing has encouraged country after country to break off diplomatic relations with Taipei and officially recognise ‘One China’.

The latest was Nauru, a tiny island in Micronesia, which defected following President Lai’s election in January.

For the next four years, President Lai is going to be walking a tight geopolitical tightrope. He has placed himself firmly in China’s crosshairs.

And he will be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the American election in November, unsure of whether the United States would still have his back if Donald Trump returns to the Whitehouse.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping has set a target of 2027 for the Chinese military to achieve full modernisation and combat readiness.

That doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that he has set that as the year to invade, but it is a milestone that the Lai administration can’t ignore.

They too must prepare Taiwan for potential conflict in a similar time frame, even if it’s not such an immediate risk.

Even if you don’t believe it will come to war, can you risk not to at least be prepared for all eventualities?

President Lai has accepted what could be one of the most pivotal presidencies in Taiwan’s history.

He is now a global leader working to prevent another conflict in an already unstable world.

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