Taiwan’s Incoming President Lai Ching-te Courts Diplomatic Allies with Shrimp Fishing

TAIPEI – On the eve of his inauguration, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te engaged in a unique diplomatic effort by taking leaders from Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies shrimp fishing. This event occurred on Sunday, a day before Lai faces the challenging task of managing relations with China, which asserts that Taiwan has no right to statehood.

Lai, viewed by Beijing as a “separatist,” is anticipated to emphasize the importance of maintaining stability and the status quo in Taiwan’s relationship with China during his inauguration speech on Monday. Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over the island, despite strong objections from Taipei’s government.

Currently, only 12 countries maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, including smaller and less wealthy nations such as Paraguay, Eswatini, Palau, and St. Lucia. China has been actively working to diminish Taiwan’s international presence, successfully persuading Nauru to switch its allegiance shortly after Lai’s election in January.

During the shrimp fishing event at a pond in Taipei’s foothills, a popular leisure activity in Taiwan, Lai expressed his commitment to collaboration and stability. “We will work with all sides to build a nation of prosperity and maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said. He also emphasized Taiwan’s support from international allies who share values of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

Lai was joined by Eswatini’s King Mswati III and Paraguay President Santiago Peña, highlighting the presence of significant diplomatic partners. Eswatini, in particular, remains Africa’s last absolute monarchy and has experienced violent pro-democracy protests in recent years.

In addition to these allies, former U.S. officials sent by President Joe Biden and lawmakers from countries such as Britain, Japan, Germany, and Canada are expected to attend the inauguration.

Since Lai’s election victory, Taiwan has faced ongoing pressure from China, including frequent military activities near the island. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office recently stated that Lai must choose between peaceful development or confrontation, referring to him as the “Taiwan region’s new leader.”

Domestically, Lai also faces significant challenges. His Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost its parliamentary majority in the January election, leading to intense political disputes. On Friday, lawmakers engaged in physical altercations over parliamentary reforms proposed by the opposition. More conflicts are anticipated when discussions resume on Tuesday.

Lai’s presidency begins amid both international and internal pressures, as he seeks to navigate Taiwan’s complex political landscape while fostering diplomatic ties and maintaining stability.