TAIPEI, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Taiwan presidential frontrunner Lai Ching-te on Monday named Taipei’s former envoy to the United States as his running mate in the January election, a top diplomat well-known in Washington but which Beijing denounces. as a separatist.
Lai, vice president and presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has topped most opinion polls ahead of the election, which comes as Taiwan faces increasing pressure from China to accept its claim to sovereignty.
His running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, 52, who has served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States since 2020, has extensive connections in Washington and was widely expected to be Lai’s partner on his list.
Hsiao said she shared values with Lai, including defending freedom and democracy in Taiwan.
“I believe we have a lot of common beliefs: We are both ready to take responsibility for Taiwan,” she told reporters while standing next to Lai at campaign headquarters in Taipei.
The Foreign Office accepted her resignation as US envoy earlier today.
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, chairman of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council who has known Hsiao since the 1990s, said she was a “tremendous politician” and would add much-needed diplomatic and security weight to Lai’s ticket.
“Bi-khim’s connections in Washington will be invaluable to President Lai. If he is elected, she will bring all those connections to his government and he doesn’t have any,” he told Reuters.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal ties to Taiwan but is the island’s most important international supporter and arms supplier.
Like Lai, Hsiao is despised by China, which has imposed sanctions on her twice, most recently in April, calling her “unconditional.”
China’s Foreign Ministry declined to answer a question about Hsiao, saying it was not a diplomatic issue.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday called Lai and Hsiao a “pro-independence double act,” adding that the Taiwanese people were “very clear” about what their partnership meant for the “situation across the Taiwan Strait.” It was not specified.
Lai, when asked about the comments, dismissed what he called “thoughtless remarks.”
“This is enough to prove that China is interfering in these elections,” he told reporters. “We only give importance to the problems of our people.”
China has achieved military exercises around Taiwan in August, after Lai returned from a brief visit to the United States, in what the Chinese military called “a serious warning against pro-Taiwan separatist forces colluding with outside forces to to provoke”.
The DPP defends Taiwan’s distinct identity from China. The DPP-led government says only the Taiwanese people can decide its future, and it has repeatedly proposed negotiations with Beijing, but these have been rebuffed.
The DPP’s smooth handling of its vice-presidential candidate contrasts with efforts by Taiwan’s two main opposition parties to agree on a joint slate. Their negotiations are at a standstill.
The largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favors close ties with Beijing, is locked in a dispute with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party over which of its candidates should run for president and who became vice-president, after initially agreeing to work together. .
The deadline for registering presidential candidates with the electoral commission is Friday.
Lai, writing on Facebook earlier Monday, highlighted the “unrest” in the opposition camp.
“On the other hand, the team I lead is definitely a fully prepared and tested team,” he said.
Hsiao was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and an American mother and first worked in the office of then-President Chen Shui-bian, also from the DPP, and then as a DPP lawmaker.
Unusually in Taiwan, she uses an English spelling of her name based on its Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation to emphasize her identity as being Taiwanese and not Chinese.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Fabian Hamacher; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Miral Fahmy, Robert Birsel
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.