Taiwan’s Lai Wants to Tell Xi Jinping to ‘Chill Out’ Over Dinner

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(Bloomberg) -- Dinner with strangers can often be a little awkward, especially when your guest has threatened you with invasion. Still, that hasn’t deterred Taiwan’s Vice President Lai Ching-te from naming Chinese President Xi Jinping as the head of state he’d most like to have dinner with.

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Lai, who is the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election, made the comments while answering a round of quick-fire questions from students at his alma mater National Taiwan University on Sunday.

“If I had the opportunity to have dinner with him, I would urge him to chill out a little and not put everyone under so much pressure,” he said about the Chinese president in a video posted to his Instagram account Monday. “People’s well-being is the most important thing and peace benefits everyone.”

The video comes as Lai heads into an election that could set the tone of relations between Taipei, Beijing and Washington for years to come. Beijing has, in recent years, been ramping up military and diplomatic pressure on the self-governing island it claims as part of its territory.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning declined to comment on the “remarks of some people in Taiwan,” when asked about Lai’s comments at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

While Lai has moderated his rhetoric in recent years, he previously positioned himself as an advocate for Taiwanese independence, a stance that has led to staunch criticism from China.

Lai is facing off against the opposition Kuomintang’s Hou Yu-ih in January’s election that will decide who will succeed President Tsai Ing-wen, who will step down due to term limits.

--With assistance from James Mayger.

(Updates with Chinese Foreign Ministry comment in the fifth paragraph.)

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