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16 Nov, 2023 20:28

Taiwan’s envoy to US joins presidential race

The ruling party’s frontrunning candidate has chosen Taipei’s top diplomat in Washington as his running mate
Taiwan’s envoy to US joins presidential race

Taiwan’s leading presidential candidate has chosen the self-governing island’s envoy to the US as his vice presidential running mate, further shaping the race as a battle between pro-Washington and pro-Beijing interests.

Ruling-party candidate Lai Ching-te, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has picked Hsiao Bi-khim as his running mate, according to local and Western media reports posted on Thursday. Hsiao, billed by Reuters as “a fluent English speaker with deep connections in Washington,” has been Taipei’s envoy to the US since 2020.

The news comes one day after Taiwan’s leading opposition parties agreed to form a joint ticket in January’s election to consolidate their political support and boost their chances of beating Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP accuses the rival parties of being manipulated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and of knuckling under to “the will of Beijing.” 

The election will likely determine whether Taiwan can ease tensions with Beijing, which has vowed to reunify with the breakaway province – by force, if necessary. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) have both pledged to pursue talks with the mainland government to “restore peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” Chinese officials have branded Lai a separatist and “troublemaker.”

Beijing suspended diplomatic contact with Taipei after the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen took office as president in 2016. Tsai has hosted visits by US politicians, angering the CCP, and has ramped up purchases of American weaponry. For its part, the People’s Liberation Army has carried out large-scale wargames in the Taiwan Strait.

The latest poll by Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS showed that Lai was leading the presidential race with support from 33% of voters. TPP candidate Ko Wen-je and the KMT’s Hou Yu-ih were polling at 24% and 22%, respectively. The TPP and KMT agreed on Wednesday to choose one of their candidates, based on a joint analysis of the polls, then to make the other candidate his vice-presidential running mate.

TVBS said a formal announcement on the selection of Hsiao as Lai’s running mate is expected to be made on Monday, the first day for official candidate registrations. Hsiao is currently attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, where US President Joe Biden held a long-awaited meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

The envoy will reportedly return to Taiwan for the presidential campaign after the APEC summit. A spokesman for Lai’s campaign, Vincent Chao, declined to confirm that Hsiao will join the DPP’s ticket. Without naming the chosen candidate, he told Reuters that the running mate will “reinforce our commitment to the people of Taiwan and the international community that democracy, peace and prosperity will continue to be our guiding values.”

Former Pentagon official Randall Schriver described Hsiao as a good promoter of US-Taiwan relations. “If ambassador Hsiao becomes vice president, there is no doubt this will be to the benefit of US-Taiwan relations,” he told Reuters.

Hsiao was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and an American mother. She attended college in the US and long served as an international spokeswoman for the DPP. Beijing has twice imposed sanctions on Hsiao and called her a diehard separatist. The most recent sanctions came in April, barring her and her family members from traveling to the mainland, Hong Kong or Macau.

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