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Ma Wins Big in Taiwan

Posted By Conn Carroll On March 24, 2008 @ 1:01 pm In International | Comments Disabled

The Heritage Foundation’s Distinguished Fellow in China Policy Ambassador Harvey Feldman is in Taipei and has filed some great commentary on Ma Ying-jeou’s victory over Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, including:

Although Ma has said he holds out hope of an ultimate unification of Taiwan with China, it can come only many years in the future, and after China has become completely democratic. In the meantime, while saying he does not favor Taiwan acquiring offensive weapons — a position shared in Washington — he wants to see a “hardened, more capable” Taiwanese military. One which can withstand any PRC attack and hold out until the US can come to Taiwan’s defense, and he is prepared to spend the money necessary to acquire that strength.

Read the rest oh this report after the jump:

In the end, it was not even close. In a heavy voter turnout, KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou beat his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rival by 17 percentage points, taking just under 7.7million votes to Frank Hsieh Chang-ting’s 5.5 million. Along the way, Ma captured such traditional DPP strongholds as Tainan and Kaohsiung cities, while handsomely winning the usually pro-KMT northern part of Taiwan.

At the same time, the referendum on Taiwan joining the UN, so contentious in both Washington and Beijing, failed completely.

As if sensing defeat in the days immediately before the election, Hsieh asked that the election be postponed and proposed that both he and Ma join in “sit-in protests” of Chinese brutality in Tibet. He even apologized for the “mistaken policies” followed by the DPP and its current president, Chen Shuibian. Neither these things, nor the charge that Ma still retained the “green card” he had held decades before (thus supposedly showing little faith in Taiwan or its future) helped. Ma cruised to an easy victory.

During the campaign, the DPP stressed three things: Dignity for Taiwan and for Taiwanese identity; security from PRC attack; and prosperity through a better economic future. The KMT campaigned on the same issues, but turned the order around. Prosperity, and economic improvement after “DPP mismanagement” stood in first place. Taiwan’s security followed, but in a different guise. Now it took the form of rebuilding trust in Washington while ending provocative acts aimed at Beijing. And while the KMT candidates promised to enhance the island republic’s international standing, Taiwanese identity was not a major theme.

It seems clear that economic improvement, particularly at a time of rolling global economic difficulty, was uppermost in the voters’ minds.

Washington, of course, had no publicly preferred candidate, but it was hardly secret that the Bush administration had lost confidence in the current president, Chen Shuibian, and thus by extension had doubts about the DPP as a party. Beijing, on the other hand, made no secret of its preference for Ma. Just a few weeks ago in Beijing the author was told that it would be much easier for them to talk to work with Ma. But if they expect him to be a pushover, or someone eager to sign on to whatever deal they offer, the Chinese will be disappointed. Although Ma has said he holds out hope of an ultimate unification of Taiwan with China, it can come only many years in the future, and after China has become completely democratic. In the meantime, while saying he does not favor Taiwan acquiring offensive weapons — a position shared in Washington — he wants to see a “hardened, more capable” Taiwanese military. One which can withstand any PRC attack and hold out until the US can come to Taiwan’s defense, and he is prepared to spend the money necessary to acquire that strength.

There are also political realities to consider. Handsome as he election victory may be, he cannot afford to forget that well over 40 percent of the electorate — 5.5 million people — voted for Frank Hsieh. If he is to be president of all the people, and not just of the KMT voters, their views must be taken into account.

In point of fact, rhetoric aside, the practical differences between the two sides on Chinese policy are not that great. Both Ma and Hsieh have endorsed more frequent and ultimately regularized air travel between Taiwan and China. Both want an economic relationship with China that prospers Taiwan without endangering it. Ma is likely to move a bit faster than would Hsieh, but both would have moved in the same direction.

For the past eight years Taiwan has had a divided government, with the presidency held by the DPP and the legislature dominated by the KMT. During this campaign, Frank Hsieh called on the people to vote for checks and balances, which is to say a continuation of the divide. But it has been clear for some time that Taiwan’s people saw this as a prescription for a government that not only was divided, but also essentially impotent, with little of importance being accomplished. They have now voted for unified government, but it is doubtful, knowing the people of Taiwan, that they want to see a government where the party that controls both the executive and the legislature rides roughshod over the still sizable opposition. It is now up to the KMT and Ma Ying-jeou, when he takes office on May 20, to provide responsible and responsive government.


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