Magazine article The American Conservative

Détente in the Taiwan Strait

Magazine article The American Conservative

Détente in the Taiwan Strait

Article excerpt

Lost in the din of Tibetan riots and anti-Chinese protests calling for boycotts of the Beijing Games was the reopening of unofficial, direct negotiations between

the Chinese and Taiwanese governments. This development followed the March landslide victoiy of Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan's presidential election and his Kuomintang Party's January victory in the parliamentary elections. In midApril, the newly elected Taiwanese vice president, Vicent Siew, met Hu Jintao, China's paramount leader, to discuss future economic co-operation between the two states, pointing toward the possibility of establishing regular direct flights between China and Taiwan and a gradual normalization of relations.

Though Siew went as a private citizen, even this much of a thaw in relations is remarkable. The shift in internal Taiwanese politics and Beijing-Taipei relations that the new KMT government represents may be one of the more important changes in world politics in recent years. It also draws attention to the economic flaws and political weakness of former President Chen Shuibian's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, as well as confirming the continuation of the "one China" policy espoused by Beijing, Washington, and Taipei.

The DPP never had an overwhelming mandate. It first gained power in 2000 with a plurality of the vote in a race that saw the traditional "Blue" coalition split between rival campaigns. The party won again by a narrow margin in 2004 in the wake of an assassination attempt on Chen, which many of his opponents believe was staged.

Despite Chen's initial popularity and the novelty of breaking the KMT stranglehold on power, during the eight years of DPP rule the government was dogged by corruption scandals and an ineffective response to the collapse of the market bubble in 2000. In the same period, China increasingly became the preferred place to do business for Western and Taiwanese companies, putting a party that was hostile to Beijing ever more at odds with the economic interests of the country. In the March election, the DPP's candidate, Frank Hsieh-perceived as the representative of a party lacking any positive agenda beyond symbolic provocations aimed at both Beijing and the KMT-was routed by 17 points.

One of the main commemorative squares in Taipei offers some hint of how obnoxious the years of DPP ascendancy seemed to a majority of Taiwanese. …

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