Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 04:05 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 04:05 | SYDNEY

Taiwan chooses


Malcolm Cook

20 March 2008 11:06

Taiwan presidential elections garner more international attention than almost any other elections in East Asia, and this attention is usually solely focused on the question of what the result will mean for the 'cross-strait status quo' and the likelihood of further tensions between China and Taiwan. After two terms of the presidency being controlled by the independence-leaning DPP and its charismatic leader Chen Shui-bian, it is very likely that the Kuomintang and its new spearhead, Ma Ying-jeou, will win. This will probably bring greater stability and predictability to Taiwan domestic politics and Taiwan’s international politics.

On the domestic front, If Ma wins, then for the first time in eight years, the legislative and executive wings of Taiwan’s government will be controlled by the same party. Law-making, including agreeing to purchase military equipment from Taiwan’s external guarantor, the US, will be easier, and much of the gridlock Taiwan has suffered for the last two presidential terms will likely be lifted. Ma’s and the Kuomintang’s position will be strengthened if they can penetrate the DPP’s southern heartland and if Frank Hsieh, the DPP candidate on Saturday, wins less than 45% of the popular vote.

On the international side, Ma has presented himself as the Taiwan leader more able to deal with cross-strait relations, and hence relations with Taiwan’s external guarantor, more constructively while maintaining Taiwan’s identity as autonomous from China. This has certainly been well-received internationally and in China, which would clearly prefer a Ma victory. However, I doubt that much progress, especially on cross-strait political relations, will be achievable even if Ma wins. The ongoing crackdown in Tibet has played into the end of the Taiwan campaign, re-emphasising the role China plays as a dark menace in Taiwan political thinking (and, of course, vice versa). Frank Hsieh, in an attempt to win some momentum, has adopted the line that 'Tibet today could be Taiwan tomorrow' (reading between the lines, he means if you vote for the China-friendly Kuomintang). This has led Ma Ying-Jeou, who was born in Hong Kong and is a viewed as a 'mainlander' in Taiwan, to soften his language on the idea of a cross-strait common market, to refer to Taiwan as a 'sovereign country' and to threaten to boycott the Olympics.

For more details on the coming Taiwan elections, you can download a presentation I gave on China and Taiwan last month.

Photo by Flickr user Shenghung Lin, used under a Creative Commons licence.