Global Tensions and a Hostile Neighbor Await Taiwan’s New Leader

Taiwan’s incoming president, Lai Ching-te, is poised to take office on Monday, facing hard choices about how to secure the island democracy’s future in turbulent times — with wars flaring abroad, rifts in the United States over American global security priorities, and political divisions in Taiwan over how to preserve the brittle peace with China.

Mr. Lai has promised to steer Taiwan on a safe course through these hazards, a theme that he is likely to highlight in his inaugural speech on a public plaza in Taipei. He has said that he will keep strengthening ties with Washington and other Western partners while resisting Beijing’s threats and enhancing Taiwan’s defenses. Yet he may also extend a tentative olive branch to Beijing, welcoming renewed talks if China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sets aside his key precondition: that Taiwan accept that it is a part of China.

“We’ll see an emphasis on continuity in national security, cross-strait issues and foreign policy,” said Lii Wen, the international director for Mr. Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party and an incoming spokesman for the new leader.

But Mr. Lai, 64, faces hurdles in trying to hold to the course set by his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen.

Both Ms. Tsai and Mr. Lai belong to the Democratic Progressive Party, which promotes Taiwan’s separate status from China. Mr. Lai, though, is a different personality: more polished in public, less seasoned in foreign policy negotiations, and with a record of combative remarks that can come back to haunt him. He also must deal with two emboldened opposition parties that early this year won a majority of seats in the legislature — a challenge that Ms. Tsai did not face in her eight years as president.

Preparations for the inauguration at the presidential office building in Taipei on Friday.Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Ms. Tsai took office in 2016, Mr. Xi’s hard-line policies were starting to galvanize Western opposition. But now Western nations are also weighed by wars in Ukraine and the Mideast; Mr. Xi has been seeking to weaken the alliances forged against China; and the United States’ looming elections are adding to uncertainty about the direction of its foreign policy.

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