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Taiwan’s top US diplomat registers for election; opposition in disarray

Former diplomat Hsiao Bi-khim formalises her run for vice president as the November 24 deadline for candidates looms.

Taiwan’s outspoken former envoy to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, has formally registered her candidacy for vice president and the running mate of William Lai in the island’s upcoming 2024 election.

Hsiao, 52, a former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator, served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US from 2020 until her resignation this week.

Her tenure in Washington, DC coincided with renewed US interest in Taiwan thanks to its early battle with COVID-19 and an ongoing standoff with Beijing at a time when US-China relations were souring.

Hsiao, a self-described “cat warrior” who often poses with her felines, is also well-known for her active presence on social media platforms like X, where she has amassed 133,000 followers promoting the DPP’s pro-Taiwan stance.

“Back in Taiwan! Honored to join @ChingteLai on the ticket as VP for 2024. Tough road ahead expected as I shoulder a heavier burden. Taiwan’s democracy deserves our best efforts,” she posted on Tuesday.

Like Lai, the current vice president, Hsiao is despised by Beijing for her political stance on Taiwan and its relationship with China. In April, she was formally banned by Beijing from visiting China, Hong Kong and Macau after she accompanied President Tsai Ing-wen on her unofficial trip to the US.

Beijing claims Taipei as its own territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal. The DPP says only the people of Taiwan can decide their island’s future.

Despite earning the ire of Beijing, Hsiao is popular with younger voters and seen as a breath of fresh air compared with some of her counterparts. Reflecting the surge in Taiwanese identity across the island and diaspora, Hsiao uses the Taiwanese pronunciation of her name instead of Mandarin, the dominant language in China.

The media boost to Lai’s presidential campaign comes with the opposition in apparent disarray just days away from the November 24 deadline for registration.

Last week, Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou You-ih and independent Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je appeared ready to upset the election by working together and posing the most formidable challenge yet to Lai, who has been polling ahead of both candidates.

Within days, the plan was abandoned after the two parties could not agree on who would run for president following a disastrous attempt at internal polling. Both parties were forced to walk back on a deal that had been brokered by former President Ma Ying-jeou.

Ko, the former mayor of Taipei, is popular with Taiwanese voters who are tired of the island’s two-party dominated political system or want something new after eight years of the DPP.

Hou, a former policeman and mayor, offers the stability of the KMT, a party known for its better working relationship with Beijing, and remains popular with businesspeople and Taiwanese families who fled China in the 1940s.

Neither have indicated their choice of running mate yet.

Running in distant fourth place is independent Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of iPhone maker Foxconn, whose support has remained in the single digits.

The election is scheduled for January.

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