Posted by: Shaun | March 22, 2008

Ma Ying-Jeou wins big in Taiwan

Ma Ying-Jeou

According to the latest returns from Taiwan’s presidential election, the Kuomintang’s (KMT) candidate, Ma Ying-Jeou, has defeated his opponent from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by seventeen points.  Though both Ma and the DPP candidate, Frank Hsieh, staked out more moderate foreign policy positions than the sitting president, Chen Shui-bian, Ma is seen as the leading advocate of closer commercial ties with mainland China.  As a member of the KMT, he should also have an easier time of talking to the PRC, since China thus far only allows “party to party” talks between the KMT and CCP (negotiations between governments would confer legitimacy on Taiwan as a sovereign state, rather than a “renegade province”).  Ma’s win is another boost to the KMT, which already swept parliamentary elections earlier this year.  With one party now taking a firm hold of the reins of government, the way now seems open for some progress on sticky issues like arms purchases from the United States (neglected for partisan reasons of late) and perhaps even some much needed constitutional reforms.

The results should please Beijing quite a bit.  Not only did their favored candidate take home a win, but both referendums on Taiwan’s bid to join the United Nations were defeated by voters. China viewed these as a clear red flag of Taiwan moving toward independence.  The way appears clear for a de-escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait; something that should appeal to both Taiwanese concerned about the economy and Chinese concerned with making the Summer Olympics as uneventful as possible.

Assuming this is the case, it will be worth observing how Taiwan chooses to use the space it gains.  The military balance in across the strait has drifted in China’s favor, especially as the mainland continues to stock up ballistic missiles to rain down on the island in the event of war.  Ma has put forward a reasonable national security strategy that strives to strike a balance between upholding the status quo of Taiwan-PRC relations while strengthening the island’s military and political position in the region.  This may prove hard to do, as Beijing is notoriously sensitive (to say the least) about almost any Taiwanese policy.  Still, the election results today are bode well for continued peace in East Asia.

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