How US should see voting in Taiwan
As a longtime resident in Taiwan, I very much enjoyed your article "Taiwanese tilt toward pro-China parties" (Aug. 20). While the observations seem largely accurate, I would quibble with the article's emphasis.
It's easy to view Taiwan elections as referenda of sorts on the issue of China. However, this is not really what is driving most voter behavior here. There seems to be wide support for the status quo, and among a crucial bloc of voters in the middle of the political spectrum, a general lack of interest in symbolic behavior, which might cause very real practical problems - economic, political, and military. If the Bush administration would prefer a more assertive Taiwan, one which rules out compromise with China, then why has it declared that the US would not support Taiwan independence? Its quasi-embassy here recently lobbied against the establishment of a referendum law which could, it feared, eventually be used to declare independence. It seems that the US government does not want to anger China.
So what is driving voter behavior? Much of it is a demographic difference between ethnic "mainlanders" who arrived after World War II and the majority ethnic "Taiwanese." People don't usually vote for or against a grand issue like Taiwan independence. Instead they vote on the basis of personal connections, local issues, clan-based power struggles, and patronage.
This election promises to look very much like the last election, just as we would expect from a party system organized around ethnic group membership. The major difference, as your article pointed out, is the "pan-blue" cooperation between the KMT and its spinoff, the People First Party. People First leader James Soong really is playing the role of a Ross Perot or Ralph Nader, and the new elections will constitute a correction of the old.
If the US or Japan are reluctant to cede control of crucial sea lanes to China (a major strategic issue), then they had better hope that Taiwan's tendency to avoid symbolic behavior will prevail over China's tendency to insist on it. …