William Lai names Taiwan’s former US envoy as election running mate

Lai to make a formal announcement on his choice of 52-year-old top diplomat Hsiao Bi-khin as candidate for vice president.

Taiwan's top representative in the U.S., Hsiao Bi-khim. She is walking and smiling.
Hsiao Bi-khim pictured in California last week [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

William Lai, the frontrunner for the presidency in Taiwan’s 2024 election, has named Hsiao Bi-khim, the self-ruled island’s former envoy to the United States, as his running mate.

Lai, the candidate for the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the man leading most opinion polls ahead of the January 13 election, said 52-year-old Hsiao was the right person for the job.

In a post on his Facebook page, Lai said he would formally present Hsiao as his running mate on Monday afternoon.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had accepted her resignation.

“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 said.

“I am confident that, together with Bi-khim, we will succeed in the final 50 days to unite the consensus of the people and unite all forces to win the election, and allow Taiwan to continue to grow on a steady path forward.”

Taiwan is heading to the polls at a time when Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its claims to the democratic island, which it says is part of China. It has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.

The DPP, which won power in 2016 under President Tsai Ing-wen, has said it is up to Taiwan’s people to choose their future.

Like Lai, Hsiao is despised by China, which has twice placed sanctions on her, most recently in April, calling her an “independence die-hard”.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office last week referred to Lai and Hsiao as an “independence double act”, adding that Taiwan’s people were “very clear” about what their partnership meant for the “situation in the Taiwan Strait”. It did not elaborate.

China carried out military drills around Taiwan in August, after Lai returned from a brief visit to the US. The Chinese military said its exercises were a “serious warning against Taiwan independence separatist forces colluding with external forces to provoke”.

Hsiao became Taipei’s de facto ambassador to the US in 2020, and is widely regarded as a well-connected diplomat who is adept in navigating the geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council who has known Hsiao since the 1990s, said she was a “formidable politician”, and would add much-needed diplomatic and security heft to Lai’s ticket.

“Bi-khim’s relationships in [Washington] DC will be invaluable to President Lai if he is elected. She’s going to bring all of those relationships into his government and he doesn’t have those,” he told the Reuters news agency.

The US is the island’s most important international supporter and arms supplier although, like most countries, it has no formal ties with Taipei.

The DPP’s smooth handling of its election candidates stands in contrast with efforts by Taiwan’s two main opposition parties to agree on a joint ticket.

The largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favours closer ties with Beijing, is locked in a dispute with the smaller Taiwan People’s Party about which of their candidates should run as president and which as vice president after initially agreeing to work together.

The deadline to register presidential candidates with the election commission is this Friday.

Hsiao was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and an American mother and initially worked in the office of then-President Chen Shui-bian, also from the DPP, and then as a party lawmaker.

Unusually in Taiwan, she uses a Taiwanese Hokkien spelling of her name in English to underline her identity as being Taiwanese and not Chinese.

Source: News Agencies