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Lai Ching-te’s Outlook on Cross-Strait Policy


Zhang Hua, a leading scholar on Taiwan at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, analyzes the likely cross-Strait policies of Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s newly elected president. Zhang suggests that Lai has and is likely to tailor his cross-Strait approach based on the audiences he is addressing and his various roles—as president, as leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, and as a potential presidential candidate for 2028. Zhang also suggests that Lai’s cross-Strait policy is likely to become sharper-edged in a second term.

Key takeaways
  • Zhang Hua, who directs the Department of General Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Taiwan Studies, reflects on the 2024 presidential election in Taiwan, focusing specifically on Lai Ching-te's likely approach to cross-Strait relations. He analyzes Lai's past statements on this topic and argues that the new president's stance on cross-Strait ties is likely to be articulated differently based on which of his various roles (DPP leader, president of Taiwan, presidential candidate for 2028) he is representing at the time, the audiences he is addressing, and the stage of his presidency.
  • As one example, Zhang assesses that while Lai strongly supports de jure independence for Taiwan, and expresses this view when speaking to the DPP base, he articulated support for maintaining the status quo for much of the presidential election, aligning his position with that of the electorate.
  • Zhang argues that based on historical precedent, Lai's cross-Strait approach may become sharper-edged in a second term. Zhang suggests Lai will be more reserved while eyeing reelection in 2028, but upon reelection, may feel more comfortable expressing his “true preferences” toward China, which could involve a more provocative stance. This, Zhang argues, would follow a familiar pattern from past Taiwan leaders, many of whom embraced different approaches to cross-Strait relations before and after their elections, and between their first and second terms.

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On May 20, Lai Ching-te will take office as the leader of Taiwan. His propositions for cross-Strait policy are important factors that affect the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. Lai Ching-te calls himself a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence” and is called the “golden grandson of Taiwan independence” by the outside world. He believes that “the Republic of China Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country” and claims that he maintains the “status quo in the Taiwan Strait” through the “four pillars of peaceful protection of Taiwan” and enhances substantive relations with the United States, Japan, and other countries through “democracy and freedom.” Specifically, his cross-Strait policies differ based on his different identities and in different time periods and different fields, which this article summarizes as the “Three 3s.”

5 月 20 日,赖清德将出任台湾地区领导人,其两岸政策主张是影响台海和平稳定的重要因素。赖清德自称“务实台独工作者”,被外界称作“台独金孙”,认为“中华民国台湾是一个主权独立的国家”,通过“和平保台四大支柱”维持“台海现状”,以“民主自由”提升与美日等国实质关系等。具体而言, 其所代表不同身份,在不同时间段和不同场域的两岸政策存在差异,本文将其总结为“三三路径”。

1. “Three Lai Ching-tes”


When assuming different identities and positions, the same actor often makes different decisions. As the saying goes, “where you sit determines where you stand.” Lai Ching-te has three identities: one is the chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the second is the leader-elect of Taiwan, and the third is a possible candidate for the 2028 general election.

不同身份和所处位置,决定了同一行为人往往做出不同的决策。正所谓“屁股决定脑袋”。赖清德具有三种身份,一是民进党主席,二是台湾地区候任领导人,三是 2028 年“大选”可能参选人。

As the chairman of the DPP, Lai Ching-te wants to promote “Taiwan independence” based on the party’s “Taiwan independence” platform. Therefore, they clamor that “Taiwan, Republic of China is a sovereign and independent country,” “the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other,” “Taiwan’s sovereignty must not be violated,” and “only the 23.5 million Taiwanese people have the right to decide Taiwan’s future.” These are the basic propositions of the Green camp and Lai will certainly adhere to them in his cross-Strait policy.

作为民进党主席,赖清德要基于“台独”党纲推行“台独”。故其鼓噪“中华民国台湾是主权独立的国家”“中华民国与中华人民共和国互不隶属”“台湾的主权不容侵犯”“台湾的前途只有 2350 万人台湾人民才有权决定”,这都是绿营的基本主张,也是赖定会坚持的两岸政策。

As the next leader of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te claims he wants to “maintain the status quo.” Although Lai believes that “the Constitution of the Republic of China brought disaster”, as the leader of Taiwan, he must swear an oath to abide by the constitutional provisions of Taiwan, while his “self-disciplined and pragmatic” personality, is different from the fickleness of Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian. At the same time, Lai’s cross-Strait policies are constrained by structural factors. The mainstream public opinion on the island is that “we want peace and development,” the political structure on the island is “the government is the minority and the opposition is the majority,” the United States adheres to the policy of “not supporting Taiwan independence,” and the mainland strongly curbs “Taiwan independence” separatist activities. Therefore, at the post-election press conference, he claimed that, “in accordance with the constitutional system of the Republic of China, we will be neither humble nor arrogant, maintain the status quo, and on the premise of equal dignity, replace containment with exchanges, and confrontation with dialogue. We will confidently engage in exchanges and cooperation with China, enhance the well-being of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence and prosperity.” As a possible candidate in Taiwan’s 2028 general election, Lai Ching-te must prevent cross-Strait relations from becoming an obstacle to his re-election. Although “resistance to China and rejection of unification” and stubborn adherence to “Taiwan independence” can rally supporters of the Green camp, they also have side effects. In the 2024 election, Lai put forward the theory of “peaceful protection of Taiwan,” claiming that “if elected president, the name of the Republic of China will remain, the national flag will still fly in the wind, and the probability of war between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will be the lowest.” He did this in order to reduce the impact of the claim that the election was a choice between “war and peace.” In 2028, Lai will still face this difficult problem, so his cross-Strait policies after taking office will likely try to avoid the issue becoming a factor that will impact his 2028 election.

作为台湾地区候任领导人,赖清德声称要“维持现状”。赖虽认为“中华民国宪法带来灾难”, 但其作为台湾地区领导人,要对台湾地区宪制性规定宣誓,且个性“自律务实”,跟李登辉、陈水 扁的善变存在差异。同时,赖涉两岸政策受结构性因素制约,岛内主流民意是“要和平要发展”,岛内政治格局是“朝小野大”,美国秉持“不支持台独”政策,大陆强力遏制“台独”分裂活动等。故其在选后记者会上声称“依照中华民国的宪政体制,不卑不亢,维持现状,在对等尊严的前提下,用交 流取代围堵,对话取代对抗,自信地和中国展开交流合作,增进两岸人民的福祉,达到和平共荣的目 标”。作为 2028 年台“大选”可能参选人,赖清德要防止两岸关系成连任拦路虎。“反中拒统”、顽固“台独”虽可凝聚绿营支持者,但亦有副作用。2024 年选举中,赖抛出“和平保台论”,声称“若当选总统, 中华民国国号依旧在,国旗依旧随风飘扬,且两岸发生战争的几率最低”,就是为了降低“战争与和平”选项对其选举的冲击。2028 年,赖仍将面临这一难题,故其上台后的两岸政策要尽量避免成为冲击其2028 年选举的因素。

Therefore, Lai’s cross-Strait policy should toe the “pragmatic Taiwan independence” line. On the one hand, he will loudly advocate “Taiwan independence” to appease the “Taiwan independence” fundamentalists, and continue to promote “hidden Taiwan independence” such as “cultural Taiwan independence” and “de-Sinicization.” On the other hand, he will also be constrained by structural factors and have to pave the way for his re-election in 2028, so his actions will be more covert and his methods more deceptive.

是故,赖两岸政策应是“务实台独”路线。一方面大声鼓噪“台独”以安抚“台独”基本教义派, 持续推动“文化台独”、“去中国化”等“隐性台独”;另一方面也受结构性因素制约,且要为 2028 年选举铺路,故动作上更具隐蔽性、手法上会更具欺骗性。

2. “Three major time periods”


Summarizing the cross-Strait policies of Taiwan leaders such as Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, Ma Ying-jeou, and Tsai Ing-wen, we can see significant differences in cross-Strait policies in different time periods. Generally speaking, the policies of a leader before being elected are different from the ones after being elected, and the policies of the first term are different from the second term.


Before being elected, the focus is on consolidating the votes of supporters, so leaders play to their own party and base. Lai called himself a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence” and was regarded as the “golden grandson of Taiwan independence,” which was based on this logic. During their first term, factors such as unfamiliarity with power, considerations for re-election, and internal and external pressure often cause Taiwan’s leaders to temporarily conceal their real views. At the beginning of their tenures, Lee Teng-hui formulated the “National Unification Guidelines,” Chen Shui-bian proposed the “Four No’s and One Without,” Tsai Ing-wen declared that cross-Strait relations would be handled in accordance with the “Constitution of the Republic of China” and the “Regulations on Cross-Strait Relations,” and Ma Ying-jeou appointed the Green-leaning Lai Hsing-yuan as the chairman of the “Mainland Affairs Council.” On some level, all of these measures were intended to limit the backlash of the “other side.” It is not clear whether Lai Ching-te will make similar remarks before and after his inauguration on May 20, but it is highly likely that he will soften his “stubborn Taiwan independence” stance. During their second term, leaders of the Taiwan region often “become themselves again” and push for the implementation of policy proposals that have long been “harbored deep in their hearts.” Lee Teng-hui put forward the “Two-state theory” in 1999, Chen Shui-bian promoted “legal Taiwan independence” during his second term, Tsai Ing-wen put forward the “mutual non-subordination” in 2021, and Ma Ying-jeou met with General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2015, all of which show that the leaders of the Taiwan region will choose to “do big things” during their second terms. Therefore, Lai Ching-te’s cross-Strait policy during his second term (if he is re-elected) may involve major provocative actions.

当选前,因重心是争取巩固支持者选票,故强化本政党本阵营色彩,赖自称“务实台独工作者”、被视为“台独金孙”,即是此逻辑。第一任内,对权力的不熟悉、连任的考虑、内外部的施压等因素,往往使台湾地区领导人暂时掩盖内心主张。上任初期,李登辉制定了“国统纲领”,陈水扁提出了“四不一没有”,蔡英文宣称依照“中华民国宪法”和“两岸人民关系条例”处理两岸关系,马英九启用偏绿的赖幸媛担任“陆委会”主委,某种层面上都是为了安抚“另外一方”的反弹。尚不清楚赖清德会 否在“5·20 就职”前后提出类似说辞,但软化其“顽固台独”立场可能性较大。第二任内,台湾地区领导人往往又“做回自己”,推动“埋藏心底”的政策主张落地。李登辉在 1999 年抛出“两国论”,陈水扁在第二任内推动“法理台独”,蔡英文在 2021 年抛出“互不隶属论”,以及马英九在 2015 年与习近平总书记会面,都显示台地区领导人会选在第二任内“做大事”。因此,赖清德(假使能连任的话) 第二任内的两岸政策或将出现重大挑衅行为。

3. “Three fields of the game”


Due to the different audiences they are appealing to, the cross-Strait policy propositions of the leaders of the Taiwan authorities have always differed depending on the venue: among people on the island, between the two sides of the Strait, and in foreign relations. Lai’s cross-Strait policy propositions will basically conform to this pattern.


On the island, he emphasizes the “legitimacy” of his cross-Strait policy to suppress political opponents. Cross-Strait policies are an important indicator for distinguishing political forces on the island and an important area of contest between competing forces. The basic logic is to emphasize that one’s own cross-Strait policy represents the “mainstream public opinion” on the island and brings the greatest benefits to Taiwan. Therefore, Lai Ching-te claimed that “Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to all the people, and any changes must be agreed upon by the people of Taiwan,” and “the Lai-Hsiao ticket received the most support and represents the country on its road of struggle.” At the same time, he attacked the Kuomintang (KMT) and other parties for being “pro-China and selling out Taiwan” and advocating a “false peace on the path towards unification” in order to continuously cultivate a generation who sees Taiwan as “naturally independent.”

在岛内,强调其两岸政策的“正当性”以压制政治对手。两岸政策是区分岛内政治力量的重要指标, 也是相互攻防的重要领域。基本逻辑是,强调自身的两岸政策代表了岛内“主流民意”,给台湾带来最大利益。是故,赖清德声称“台湾主权属于全体人民,任何改变都要经过台湾人民同意”,“赖萧配得到最多支持,代表国家走在争取的路上”,同时攻击国民党等“亲中卖台”“是走向统一的假和平”,以不断培育“天然独”世代。

In cross-Strait interactions, they avoid touching the bottom lines and red lines of the mainland and set up obstacles to cross-Strait consultations and negotiations. Lai declared that “there is no roadmap for Taiwan independence” and “there is no need for any separate declaration of independence,” and claimed that “he hopes to be friends with China and does not want to be enemies,” which seems to be an act of granting “assurances” to the mainland. At the same time, he refuses to recognize the “1992 Consensus,” rejects the “Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement” or any “peace agreement,” and even wants to enact a “Foreign Agents Law” against the mainland.

在两岸,避免触碰大陆底线红线,又为两岸协商谈判设置障碍。赖宣称“没有台独路线图”“不必另外宣布独立”,声称“希望与中国为友,不想成为敌人”,似乎是在向大陆做出“保证”。同时, 拒不承认“九二共识”,拒绝“服贸协议”“和平协议”,甚至要针对大陆制定“代理人法”。

Internationally, cross-Strait relations and foreign relations are mutually “instrumentalized” to each other. Lai will continue Tsai Ing-wen’s “internationalization of the Taiwan issue” policy, using “democracy against authoritarianism,” supply chains such as chips, and the underdog card [弱者对抗强权] as a means to enhance substantive relations with the United States, Japan, Europe, and other countries in order to cover up its failure and loss of points in cross-Strait relations. At the same time, he blames the reduction of Taiwan’s “international space” on “suppression” by the mainland and uses this as a reason to pursue a more stubborn cross-Strait policy.


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Cite This Page

张华 (Zhang Hua). "Lai Ching-te's Outlook on Cross-Strait Policy [赖清德两岸政策前瞻]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Taiwan Studies [台湾研究], February 1, 2024

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