Former U.S. envoy tapped for Taiwanese presidential race

De facto ambassador named running mate of DPP’s Lai Ching-te




The Japan Times


Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te, the front-runner in January’s presidential election, named the democratic island’s former envoy to the United States as his running mate on Monday, as a tie-up agreement by his top two rivals for the presidency crumbled. Lai, 64, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate, wrote on his Facebook page that he would tap Hsiao Bi-khim, 52, a fluent English speaker who had been Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States since 2020 and has deep ties to Washington, to join him on the DPP ticket. “I believe that Bi-khim is definitely an excellent person when it comes to Taiwan’s diplomatic work today, and she is a rare diplomatic talent in our country,” Lai wrote. At a news conference at Lai’s campaign headquarters in Taipei later Monday, the vice president officially named Hsiao as his running mate. Hsiao, who worked in the office of thenTaiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and later became a DPP lawmaker before becoming de facto ambassador to the U.S., resigned from her envoy post on Monday morning, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said ahead of the announcement by Lai. Although long seen as Lai’s presumptive running mate, the formal announcement could still provide his campaign with a boost. The pick comes less than a week after Lai’s two top opposition rivals for the presidency, the Kuomintang’s Hou Yu-ih and Taiwan People’s Party chief Ko Wen-je, agreed to look into running on a joint ticket — a move that would present the DPP front-runner with his first credible challenge less than two months before the Jan. 13 election. But that push appeared to falter over the weekend, with the two parties falling to agree on which candidate would run as president and vice president. Candidates must register with the election commission by Friday. In his Facebook post, Lai contrasted the divisions between the two leading opposition parties with his team, which he said can work together “to forge a consensus among the people of Taiwan and unite all forces to win the election.” Hsiao is a close confidante of outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, and is reviled by China, which has called her a “die-hard secessionist” and sanctioned her twice — most recently in April for allegedly “colluding with the U.S.” and intentionally provoking confrontation between the both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Chinese state-run media said her actions “fully exposed her ill-intentioned motives of seeking ‘Taiwan independence.’” China claims Taiwan is a rogue province that must be united with the mainland, by force if necessary. Beijing has ramped up military exercises and “combat patrols” around the island in recent years, stroking fears of planning for an invasion or a miscalculation that erupts into full-scale conflict. Asked last week about what the possible presidential ticket would mean for the Taiwan Strait situation and the Taiwanese people, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office referred to Lai and Hsiao as an “independence double act” and said ominously that it was “very clear” what this would mean, but it did not elaborate. The DPP has long pushed for a Taiwanese identity that is separate from China. Tsai, meanwhile, has said that there is no need for Taiwan to formally declare independence since it is already an independent country. She has repeatedly offered to hold talks with China, but those entreaties have been rebuffed by Beijing, which views her and her party with skepticism. Hsiao’s unique background will bring to Lai’s campaign an air of internationalism and strong ties to elite political circles in the U.S. and Japan. Wen-Ti Sung, an expert on Taiwanese politics at Australian National University, said the pick of Hsiao could help put to rest doubts that Lai, who has generated concern with some of his past comments about Taiwan independence, might be prone to more radical policies than Tsai if elected. A Lai-Hsiao ticket is intended “to convey continuity of Taiwan’s foreign policy — again driving home the reassurance that a Lai administration’s foreign policy will be a Tsai Ing-wen 2.0.,” Sung wrote on the X social media platform. Born in the city of Kobe to a Taiwanese father and American mother, Hsiao grew up in Tainan, in southern Taiwan, before venturing to the U.S. for high school and later obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in Ohio and a master’s from Columbia University in New York. During her time as a legislator and as the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the U.S., Hsiao cultivated relationships across a broad swath of the American political spectrum. She counts former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and Kurt Campbell, President Joe Biden’s top official for Asia, as decadeslong friends. In January 2021, she smashed four decades of precedent by attending Biden’s presidential inauguration, becoming the first Taiwanese representative to attend such an event in an official capacity. Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979, when it recognized Beijing as the sole legal government of China. Hsiao has also worked to bolster Taiwan’s ties with Japan despite the two countries not having formal diplomatic relations. In the past, Hsiao helped establish ferry and airmail connections between the Taiwanese city of Hualien and Okinawa Prefecture, promoted Taiwan-Japan youth dialogue, and has spoken on the importance of — and obstacles to — bilateral trade agreements and regional integration. Speaking to the Asahi Shimbun daily in an interview last September, Hsiao noted that Japan was a special place for her, personally and professionally. “I was born in Kobe, but returned to Taiwan with my family within a few months,” she said. “My father was teaching at Kwansei Gakuin University at the time. Later, when I was a legislator, I had the opportunity to interact with many members of the Diet.” Over the years, she added, she developed a strong affinity for Japan, including a love of hot springs and a desire to draw on economic lessons from the country. “When I represented a rural constituency in Taiwan, I visited rural areas in Japan to learn about improving their lives,” she said. “We have a lot to learn from each other because we have similar economic structures.”