William Lai says he still supports Taiwan independence

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — William Lai (賴清德) has continued his tap dance to court centrist support while holding on to his more strongly pro-independent base.

In a radio interview Friday morning with Hit FM, the Tainan mayor appeared to try to reassure the base, saying that while he was comfortable with close cross-strait ties, he still supported Taiwan independence.

“I stand for Taiwan independence. No matter what position I am in, I will not change this stance, this ideal,” the Democratic Progressive Party mayor said.

“But my attitude is very friendly and amicable toward mainland China. Our strategy is very flexible and nimble — it’s about seeking common ground while preserving differences, and then engaging in exchanges through which we enhance our mutual understanding.”

Lai, who is believed to harbor presidential ambitions, has made overtures to centrist and even blue supporters in recent months by repeatedly citing the need to “extend a hand of friendship to China.”

His comments Friday came less than a week after Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, who is also believed to be eyeing a future presidential bid, caught flak for what critics said was kowtowing to Beijing.

At a forum in Shanghai, Ko had said that Taiwan and China “belong to one family.” He also described the relationship between the two sides as being like that of a couple.

Lai on Friday pointed to the statement to distance himself from Ko, saying that he preferred to describe the cross-strait relationship as being like that of old friends.

He also expressed pointed criticism of Beijing.

Chinese authorities were seeking to use the “1992 Consensus” and the freezing of the DPP’s independence platform in order to divide and conquer Taiwan, Lai said.

Asked whether he would consider challenging President Tsai Ing-wen for the DPP’s presidential nomination in 2020, Lai rejected the idea, but added: “There’ll always be conspiracy theories.”