Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan's Voters Shrug off China's Threat

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan's Voters Shrug off China's Threat

Article excerpt

China's latest formal - albeit vague - threat of force against Taiwan has angered the public. But experts say it won't sway voters to support reunification in the fledgling democracy's second free presidential elections on March 18.

"The 'white paper' won't have a big effect on Taiwan's presidential elections," says Su Chi, president of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which handles relations with China for the Taiwan government.

"China's main aim is to put pressure on Taiwan's new leader," Mr. Su said in his first public reaction to the white paper.

Political analysts and government officials dismissed the white paper as a two-pronged attempt to influence the island's elections and swipe Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's "state-to-state" policy off the negotiating table.

Mr. Lee's provocative announcement last year of this policy - which in effect declared Taiwan's de facto autonomy - angered China's leadership. The white paper is seen by some as Beijing's attempt to retake the political initiative in the cross-strait power struggle as Taiwanese go to the polls.

But so far, Taiwan's three presidential front-runners have avoided a debate over cross-strait policy.

Lien Chan of the ruling Kuomintang, Democratic People's Party (DPP), candidate Chen Shui-bian, and independent ex-KMT stalwart James Soong have steered clear of taking a firm stance on terms for reunification.

The DPP's Mr. Chen has also backtracked from the party's earlier pro-independence platform, saying he would not hold a public referendum on independence if elected, unless China attacked, and will not include Lee's "state-to-state" doctrine in the Constitution.

"The three main candidates are being careful as it's a very sensitive subject, and most Taiwanese are in favor of stronger links while at the same time retaining Taiwan's independence," says James Chang, an official with MAC.

A February survey showed that 3 in 4 Taiwanese adults are in favor of the "three links" - opening up direct transport, trade, and postal links - and 4 in 5 support signing a peace agreement to end the official state of war between China and Taiwan. …

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