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Benedict Rogers

The world needs Taiwan as a vibrant democracy in Asia

For the sake of all our futures, let us stand with Taiwan and work with President Lai
Published: May 21, 2024 11:34 AM GMT

Updated: May 22, 2024 05:41 AM GMT

Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te (center), incoming First Lady Wu Mei-ju (left), and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim (right) react after his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei on May 20.

Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te (center), incoming First Lady Wu Mei-ju (left), and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim (right) react after his inaugural speech after being sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office Building in Taipei on May 20. (Photo: AFP)

Yesterday, the baton of leadership of one of the world’s most vibrant — and yet most vulnerable — democracies, Taiwan, passed from a law professor to a physician. This symbolized the talent of this great island nation — one which is built by those who cherish the rule of law as they do public health and as they exemplify freedom.

As Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female head of state and a truly pivotal figure in the country’s history, left office, she graciously handed over the seals of power to her former vice-president, William Lai Ching-te, elected four months ago as Taiwan’s 16th president, along with his running mate, Bi-khim Hsiao.

Several of my good friends from around the world — including Hong Kong Watch’s Patrons Lord David Alton of Liverpool and Sarah Champion MP — were in Taipei for the inauguration.

I was pleased to see many other delegations from liberal democracies attending the inauguration — including from the United States. I wish I had been with them in person to celebrate Taiwan’s new president and vice president. Without a doubt, I was there in spirit and solidarity.

President Lai and Vice-President Hsiao have an awesome responsibility ahead of them. Upon their shoulders falls the defense of the frontline of freedom today.

If Taiwan falls, if Xi Jinping’s brutal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is emboldened, encouraged, or misguided to invade this free island state, a war will break out which will unleash the world’s greatest conflict in over 80 years. It would be World War III.

"So long as China refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan … China’s ambition to annex Taiwan will not simply disappear"

It is in all our interests to prevent — indeed, deter — such a travesty. That’s why the entire free world — indeed all the world — should back Taiwan’s new President when he says to China: “Stop threatening Taiwan”.

As Lai says in his inaugural address: “Peace is priceless, and war has no winners.”

As we mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the Second World War next year, let’s not start another world war.

Yet as Lai rightly makes abundantly clear, the onus is on Beijing to exercise restraint.

“As we pursue the ideal of peace, we must not harbor any delusions,” Lai said yesterday. “So long as China refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan … China’s ambition to annex Taiwan will not simply disappear.”

The fact is crystal clear. Beijing is watching the free world’s moves. If we hesitate, if we show weakness, Beijing — like a tiger or a dragon, whichever metaphor you prefer — will pounce. But if we show resolve, determination, and deterrence, and if that resistance is strong enough, then we can prevail.

That is why the free world — and especially countries in the Asia-Pacific region — must join with President Lai in calling on China to “cease their political and military intimidation” and instead “share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the greater region, and ensure the world is free from the fear of war.”

China should, as Lai says, “face the reality” of Taiwan’s existence and respect the choices of the people of Taiwan. It should “choose dialogue over confrontation, exchange over containment and … engage in cooperation with the legal government chosen by Taiwan’s people.”

"Taiwan has become a leading voice for human rights not only within its own society but in the region and around the world"

But for as long as China refuses this path and continues to threaten Taiwan, Taiwan has the right — and the responsibility — to defend itself. And the international community must stand with Taiwan and stand ready to help defend it too. Only this clear message of defense has a chance of deterring a catastrophic war.

“Taiwan needs the world, just as the world needs Taiwan,” President Lai said yesterday, and he is right. The world needs Taiwan as a vibrant democracy in Asia, as living proof of the lie that Asian culture is not suited to democracy and freedom, and as a champion of human rights in the world.

Last year, I participated in an exciting conference hosted by Taiwan on international religious freedom. Lai, then vice president, gave the keynote opening speech. In 2019, I attended two other conferences in Taiwan on international religious freedom, which were both addressed by then-president Tsai.

Taiwan has become a leading voice for human rights not only within its own society but in the region and around the world, and for that, it deserves our support, respect, and appreciation.

We also need Taiwan as the world’s major producer of semiconductors, an economy at the center of artificial intelligence (AI), and a key part of global supply chains. We have much to learn from Taiwan — not least in public health.

Indeed, if we had listened to Taiwan at the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we might have averted some of that global disaster. We must strengthen our economic, political, cultural and educational ties with the island and welcome Taiwan more fully onto the world stage.

The future of Taiwan, as Lai said, “will be decided by its 23 million people” and that future “is not just the future of our nation, but the future of the world.”

For the sake of all our futures, let us stand with Taiwan and work with President Lai to build a freer, safer, more peaceful and more prosperous future for us all.

Congratulations, Mr President, on your inauguration — I wish you every success in your presidency.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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