Taiwanese election result will be felt around the world
Who wins Taiwan’s election today could have crucially important consequences for how Beijing deals with Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province of China.
Interestingly, how China reacts to the vote could have implications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who will visit Beijing next month.
What’s at stake is essentially a matter of whether Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, 61, is reelected and is able to continue his National Party’s relatively moderate and pragmatic policies toward China, or whether his main presidential opponent, TsaiIng-wen, the 55-year-old leader of the independenceleaning Democratic Progressive Party, DPP, beats Ma, resulting in a new government in Taipei adopting policies that slow down or even restrict further cooperation with Beijing, Taiwan’s one-time adversary.
If she comes to power, Tsai might find it difficult to restrain the DPP’s more nationalist-minded pro-independence members who want to emphasize their party’s firm intention to take steps toward Taiwan’s formal independence from mainland China, replacing the current status quo, where both Beijing and Taipei agree there’s only one China, though conveniently leaving it unclear what this really means.
However, if Tasi’s party does manage to take power, few would expect she and other DPP luminaries would risk making any immediate move toward altering Taiwan’s present de facto autonomy from China because they are keenly aware China has passed legislation authorizing the government to effectively use force against Taiwan if independence is attempted and, for now at least, most Taiwanese seem to prefer existing conditions.
If the DPP does win today and started backtracking on broadening relations with China, it could cause a resurgence of the sabre rattling on Beijing’s part that caused serious tension between the two following Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang occupying Taiwan after its 1949 defeat by Mao Zedong’s communists.
Fortunately, for a variety of reasons, Beijing and Taipei began to moderate their policies toward one another in the 1990s. Over the past four years in particular under Ma, Taiwan and China increased direct air and postal connections, as well as tourism. And Taiwan has become one of the largest investors in China.
Beijing presumably would react negatively to any reversal of Taiwan’s pragmatic approach to relations with China.
Such a scenario could have repercussions for Harper’s government. It’s no secret the Harper government’s relatively civil relations with Beijing came about only after the prime minister was warned by the Canadian business community that his initial outspoken criticism of China’s human rights record after assuming office in 2006 was endangering Canadian trade and other interests.
Nonetheless, Harper’s visceral dislike of Communist China and its human rights policies was shared by the vast majority of his MPs and Conservative party supporters, as well as Christian groups, including evangelical movements.
Although they remained silent when Harper begrudgingly reversed course and jettisoned his public criticism of China, it only strengthened their support for Taiwan’s attempts to maintain its own autonomy despite the threat posed by hundreds of Chinese missiles across the Taiwan Strait targeting Taiwan.