Taiwan VP new ruling party boss, setting stage for presidential run

FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's Vice President William Lai arrives in Honduras to attend swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Xiomara Castro

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan Vice President William Lai was elected as the new chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Sunday, setting the stage for him to run in presidential elections early next year.

Lai was the only candidate for taking the helm of the DPP. President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as party chairwoman in November after the DPP was trounced at local elections.

Lai has not directly said whether he intends to run in the presidential vote but is widely expected to do so now he is DPP chairman. Tsai cannot run again as president due to constitutional term limits.

The DPP's acting secretary general Sidney Lin told reporters in Taipei that Lai had won election. He formally assumes the role on Wednesday.

Lai, in a statement, pledged to win back public trust for the party and to "firmly protect Taiwan and promote Taiwan's democracy, peace and prosperity in a complex and changeable international situation."

Lai has previously angered Beijing, which views Taiwan as merely a wayward province not a country, with his staunch support for the island's sovereignty and separate identity.

A former premier and mayor of the southern city of Tainan, Lai has been Tsai's vice president since 2020 following the DPP's landslide election win.

He has taken on an increasingly high profile international role over the past year, briefly speaking with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in January last year while they were both in Honduras, one of 14 countries to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

In 2018, while still premier, Lai told parliament he was a "Taiwan independence worker" and that his position was that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country.

China's influential Global Times tabloid responded at the time by saying China should issue an international arrest warrant for him to face prosecution under the country's 2005 Anti-Secession Law.

The DPP won the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide by pledging to defend Taiwan against China and not submit to Beijing's threats.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)