TAIPEI: Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's former envoy to the United States and self-described "cat warrior", was named on Monday (Nov 20) as the running mate to presidential frontrunner Lai Ching-te for the island's January elections.
The Jan 13 vote comes at a time when Beijing has intensified military and diplomatic pressure on the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and China has blasted the pairing of Vice President Lai and Hsiao as an "independence duo".
Hsiao, 52, had been Taipei's de facto ambassador to the United States since 2020, and is widely regarded in Washington as a well-connected and savvy diplomat. She is also seen by China as an "independence diehard", and Beijing has sanctioned her twice.
She formally resigned from her position Taiwan's envoy to the United States on Monday, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Calling herself a "cat warrior" - a play on the assertive "wolf warrior diplomacy" style of Chinese officials - Hsiao said on Monday during a press conference that she was ready to "fully commit" herself to the presidential campaign.
"I think diplomacy is like a cat's step - you have to be careful in every step you take," she said, akin to working under a "complicated strategic environment to maximise Taiwan-US relations".
Lai, who called Hsiao "a warrior for democracy", emphasised the need for "a stable helmsman" with the duo running on the ticket for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
"(We) will lead the country steadily and firmly follow the right path. Please give us a chance," he said.
While the United States does not diplomatically recognise Taiwan, it is the island's most prominent ally and arms supplier.
During Hsiao's three-year stint in Washington, she had enabled US-Taiwan relations to be "the most mutually trusting" in history, said Lai.
Last September, a US Senate committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act, allowing Washington to provide Taipei security assistance to the tune of US$4.5 billion over four years.
The legislation also laid out sanctions on China should it use force to try and seize Taiwan.
Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan-China affairs expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said Hsiao has done an "outstanding job" in advancing Taiwan's interests.
"She understands how Congress works, its key role in supporting Taiwan, but also how to work with the executive branch and Congress at the same time," Glaser said.
To Taiwanese voters, a Lai-Hsiao ticket would represent the party's platform to "resist China", said political scientist Chang Chun-hao of Taiwan's Tunghai University.
"(They) can create a powerful effect in anti-China and pro-US issues," he told AFP. "Hsiao not only represents Taiwanese ideology but she also has a pro-US role."
She will "likely be seen as a consistent, moderate voice in a future Lai administration", said Raymond Kuo, Taiwan Policy Institute director at RAND Corporation.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office last Wednesday blasted the Lai-Hsiao pairing.
"I think every Taiwanese compatriot is very clear on what it means for this situation across the Taiwan Strait," said spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian, without elaborating further.
Also in the race are the pro-Beijing party Kuomintang and the less-established Taiwan People's Party. Both have pledged warmer ties with China if elected.
The two had tentatively agreed on an alliance, but negotiations have stalled over which party's candidate would run for president.
All parties have until Nov 24 to formally register their candidates for the poll.