TAIWAN: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Cliffhanger election will affect China relations
, February 28, 2004
The Presidential election being held on March 20 in Taiwan will have important implications for relations with China, and may set a model for a future multi-party democracy in China. It is very clear that the election is being closely watched in Beijing, and by the Chinese people.
Taiwan, a nation of 23 million people, has been effectively independent of China since the former Nationalist Government came to power there, after the Chinese Communist Party, with Soviet Russian support, seized the mainland after a decades-long civil war in 1949.Economic growth
Taiwan has become an economic powerhouse in Asia, and Taiwanese investments have been one of the engines of mainland China's economic growth in the 1990s. However, government-to-government relations have been non-existent.
In the last Presidential election, held in May 2000, the Chinese Government unwittingly assisted Chen Shui-bian by threatening the Taiwanese people with war if Chen was elected. The intervention was condemned by the US and deeply resented in Taiwan, and led many Taiwanese to vote for Chen to protect Taiwan's independence.
In the current election campaign, the Beijing Government-controlled New China News Agency (Xinhua)
declared that the Chinese government "will not involve itself in the election of the Taiwan region, and is not concerned about the election result", while doing exactly the opposite.
The election is being fought between the incumbent President from the Democratic Progressive Party, Chen Shui-bian, and a coalition of Kuomintang Chairman, Lien Chan, and People First Party Chairman, James Soong. Recent opinion polls indicate that the vote is too close to call.
At the same time that the Presidential election is held, the people of Taiwan will also vote on referendum proposals put by President Chen.
The referendum will ask citizens to decide whether to authorise the Government to bolster Taiwan's defences against potential missile attacks from the Communist-ruled People's Republic of China and to engage in talks with Beijing on a "peace and stability framework" for cross-strait ties.
However, the New China News Agency
published a stinging attack on Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian.
It quoted a Government spokesman as saying that President Chen was "deceitful".
The Chinese Government official said, "On the one hand, Chen Shui-bian is bent on having his own way and pursuing a referendum that would provoke confrontation between peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, sabotage cross-Straits relations and endanger peace in the Taiwan Straits.
"On the other hand, he has professed he would set up a so-called framework for cross-Straits peace and stability. We think Chen Shui-bian's words are deceitful," he said.
Soochow University political science Professor Sheng Chih-jen said while voters expressed strong support for both Chen's call for a new Taiwan constitution and referendum late last year, backing for these positions seems to have ebbed after the United States Government "continued to express doubts" about these positions.
"While the US is not in a position as a foreign nation to openly oppose the referendum, statements by high-level US officials that referendums are 'not necessary' are conveyed through the media and thus are influencing the Taiwan election," Sheng said.
"Voters in Taiwan do not care whether the opposition parties or China opposed the referendum, but the real influence is the attitude of the US," he said, adding that "the DPP needs to engage in more dialogue with the US to avoid the impression that the US continues to oppose the referendum."
In a televised debate between the two Presidential candidates, President Chen warned of the continuing threat to Taiwan's sovereign status posed by Beijing's deployment of nearly 500 tactical missiles and pressure on Taiwan to accept the "one China principle."
"It is very clear that the Taiwan people cannot accept the 'one China principle' or 'one country, two systems,'" said Chen, who noted that "we cannot wait until they attack."
Lien countered by affirming that his definition of "one China" was that "the Republic of China is the 'one China'" and that the opposition advocated that Taiwan and the China mainland should "set aside the controversy over sovereignty" and foster mutual cooperation and economic prosperity.
Chen in turn declared that "we can set aside some issues, but not sovereignty" and described Lien's suggestion as "most dangerous".
"Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country whose name under the Constitution is the Republic of China," President Chen said, promising to "safeguarding the status quo of Taiwan sovereignty and cross-strait peace."