Monday, January 14, 2008

Taiwan parliamentary elections results signal a return to practicality and sensibility

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) landslide victory in the parliamentary elections on 12 January 2008 in many ways demonstrated the wishes of the majority of the Taiwanese people to return to a pragmatic political policy of sensibility after years of tension with China. Of course, the poor performance of the island’s economy with a relatively high unemployment rate had played a part in the defeat of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The outcome can also be interpreted as an outright rejection of the ruling administration controversial policies of moving Taiwan towards a path of independence and changing or altering historical values and symbols that have the slightest resemblance or connections to the Mainland.

The official Central Election Commission announced that the KMT has won 81 seats as against the DPP’s 27 seats and the balance of 5 seats to minor parties and independents, making up the 113-seat Legislative Yuan. Voter turnout was almost 60% of the 17 million eligible votes where for the first time the Chamber seats were reduced by half to improve the quality of the candidates and to reduce corruptions among elected assemblymen.

Though China has not reacted officially to the elections results but they have silently applauded the KMT’s victory which meant that the independence cause is temporarily shelved at least until the next parliamentary elections. There is a strong likelihood now that the Presidential poll would also move in favor of the opposition candidate, Ma Ying-jeou on 22 March 2008.

While the Chinese government has refused to speak to the ruling President because of his independence stand and his outright provocative political platform, there is a possibility they may negotiate with a new President from KMT. In recent years, Beijing has invited the honorary KMT’s Chairman and senior KMT officials to visit the mainland. It was widely believed that the Chinese leaders have privately assured visiting Taiwanese scholars and business leaders that ties would improve if the KMT are back in power. KMT did not reject the concept of reunification based on the 1992 “One China” principle and this small agreement may be what it takes to bring the two historical “nemesis” to the negotiation table.

Even the US, the volunteered protector of Taiwan, has criticized the current Taiwan’s President, Chen Shui Bian, for trying to change the status quo by needlessly and carelessly raising tensions across the Taiwan Strait, which brings no benefit to the Taiwanese people.

With its growing economic clout and political influence, China has cleverly nudged the US to use its political influence and pressure on Taiwan to discourage any independence initiatives whether perceived or real.

Over the past decade, China had successfully undergone a rapid transformation and modernization of its military force with the main objective to prevent Taiwan from breaking away from the motherland, bearing in mind that the US will come to Taiwan’s assistance. China’s military has studied and adopted high-tech war strategies with the sole objective of deterring the US from any involvement in the event of a Taiwan’s conflict. Recent Chinese military literature indicates that the Chinese’s military with its sophisticated weapons and enhanced technical training is supremely confident that they can take on Taiwan with or without the US’s military assistance. First, the near absence of strong rhetoric and verbal threats from Beijing whenever there are provocations coming from the island and second, the lack of display of China’s military might whenever there is an election across the Taiwan Straits have prompted us to support this underlying notion.

We believe the next President from the KMT would be a pragmatic and sensible person who will choose to avoid confrontation and work towards closer economic ties. With the KMT in power, Taiwan will most likely begin to have direct trade and air links to China. Presently, what would be just a 90-minute trip between Taipei and Shanghai will take up to nearly seven-hour through a third locality, usually via Hong Kong. In the past, Taiwan's businessmen have lobbied for direct flights that logically promote traveling convenience and save time and costs.

Closer economic ties with China will help spur economic growth on the island by opening lucrative investments and creating more jobs, a key concern of the majority of voters over the weekend poll. The economy of China and Taiwan are now intertwined with the Taiwanese being one of the largest investors with an estimated US$600 billion to date. An estimated 1 million or 4.3% of the island population are either working or staying on the mainland. According to official statistic from China, China was able to absorb nearly 40% of the island’s total exports from January to November 2007.

Chen’s controversial politics has brought nothing but misery to the Taiwan people and it is very likely that if he steps down as the President in March this year, he may be prosecuted for alleged corruptions during his tenure as the Taiwan’s leader since 2000.

On the diplomatic front, Taiwan has continued to lose its international presence with only 24 small and poor nations on its list. Ultimately, we foresee that the remaining nations with relations with Taiwan will want to live in a realistic international order where they could reap the economic benefits and assistance by having linkages to China. China, being an important investor and a big consumer market, would be able to sway these nations to its side in the years to come.

Last week, there were diplomatic rumblings that there may be a diplomatic switch by Malawi, a poor Southern African nation, to Beijing by next week. Even the principled and hypocritical US has discarded its so-called one time ally diplomatically and recognized China in 1979 following the historical US President trip’s to China in 1974. Realistically speaking, Taiwan is losing the diplomatic battlefront to Beijing but the pro-independence Taiwanese forces with the sympathetic support of the Western media and the US continued to challenge this foregone fact.

Though the Taipei’s government tried to tune its foreign policy to suit the ever changing diplomatic conditions, it will remain a futile effort in the end. The only workable solution is to negotiate with the Chinese authorities for an acceptable political settlement and perhaps, as one analyst suggested the establishment of a loose China Federation under which Taiwan will be self governing body until the political systems of both entities can be aligned. We are sure that there will be a middle path or a compromise acceptable to all parties in the not too distant future. Most important there must not be any interference from any nosy Western institutions which will only complicate the situations.

We will get to see a complete and clearer picture of the Taiwanese political situation. Meanwhile, lets’ wait and see what will happen on March 22 and beyond.

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