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« Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 46 -- Tax Freedom Day. | WILLisms.com | Ethiopian Elections: Maturation Of An Emerging Democracy. »

Taiwan Chooses Independence.

Taiwan's voters rejected heavy overtures from Beijing and demands from opposition parties for reunification:

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won an election on Saturday, securing a fresh mandate to pursue an independence-leaning policy toward rival China.


Less than a quarter of Taiwan's electorate went to the polls, despite a highly visible campaign in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party, through spokesman Cheng Li-wen, delivered one of the more lame excuses in the history of politics (is that overstating it?):

"The voting results were not conclusive because of the low turnout. If you have 50, 60, 70 or 80 percent that's different. If it hadn't been raining so hard in the north, our result would have been better."


Vice President Annette Lu of the DPP sarcastically derided China for its failure to effectively influence Taiwanese elections:

"I would like to thank the Chinese Communist Party, because each time there is pressure from China, the people show that democracy is what people embrace here in Taiwan."

China, in past weeks, has been in full campaign mode on behalf of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the People's First Party, which both favor more rapid integration with mainland China than does the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP):

With his political adversaries seeking to build relationships with rival China, Chen had been under rising pressure to find ways to break the ice with Beijing, which refuses to deal with him or his government because of their independence stance.

China claims the democratic island of 23 million as its own and enacted an anti-secession law in March sanctioning war if Taiwan pushes for formal statehood.

As part of a strategy to divide and conquer Taiwan, China had sought to marginalise Chen by engaging the opposition KMT and People First Party (PFP), which both oppose Taiwan independence.

In meetings with KMT leader Lien Chan and PFP leader James Soong, Beijing offered Taiwan a slew of economic incentives, aiming to win the hearts of the island's 23 million people.


The results are a clear rejection of the "one China under Beijing" policy the mainland wants, but the election also signals to President Chen that he must be cognizant that his governing coalition is not without vulnerabilities. For example, in the lead up to Saturday's election, many of Chen's core pro-independence supporters felt that he was going soft on them, maybe even selling them out.

Meanwhile, China will continue its two-pronged carrot-stick strategy, including the courting Taiwan with promises of economic incentives if they vote for pro-unification parties (the carrots), while frightening everyone else with live military exercises and bellicose anti-secession laws (the sticks).

The United States must also walk the fine line between protecting Taiwan from Chinese aggression and being viewed as meddling in Taiwanese politics, which could produce an electoral backlash.

Ultimately, though, American leaders should stand for the survival of a free and democratic Taiwan. China is no longer a "will be" economic power. China, 20 years after its market-oriented economic reforms, already boasts the second largest economy in the world. It is not a matter of if, but when, China's economy will overtake that of the United States. Concurrent with China's economic expansion is the growth of China's military might. This might could finally "right" what China believes are hundreds of years of "wrongs" at the hands of foreign powers; mainland China views Taiwan as a central cog in regaining its wounded pride.

The Chinese view history in terms of centuries and millenia, not, as most Americans do, in years and decades, and Beijing seems more than willing to make some short-term sacrifices to fix what it views as a temporary blight to its long-term territorial integrity.

As long as China remains a dictatorship, America mustn't let that happen. Incidentally, this is one of those issues where John Bolton, one of the Bush administration's most ardently pro-Taiwan voices, would be highly effective.

If he could get confirmed already.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 May 2005 05:55 PM


Lien Chan of the nationalist party is really pouting! What a Loser... Yay for Democracy!

Posted by: Taffy at May 14, 2005 07:40 PM

The picture of Howard Dean that was on WILLisms.com this week would look good together with that picture of Lien Chan!... He and Howard would be good together working for their causes! Don't you think?...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 14, 2005 08:05 PM

Great post, thanks for sharing.

I think we'll live to see re-unification -- between two democratic states. Younger urban Chinese have seen the freedom and wealth in Hong Kong and Taiwan and S Korea. They have little allegiance to the old Communists.

Posted by: TallDave at May 14, 2005 08:08 PM

I would hardly call this a clear rejection of anything. Nothing was "clear" in this election, despite what the media is saying. I live in Taipei and I can tell you most people didn't even know about this "election" and those that did didn't seem to care. Proof of this is that less than one-quarter of the electorate turned out. Of that one-quarter, the pro-independence camp got 49%. That's hardly a ringing endorsement. So the DPP will try to play this up as a big win, but it's actually not.

Posted by: Dave C. at May 14, 2005 08:33 PM

Looking more on the domestic side of things, you will note that the two most prominent Nationalist Party members have both visited the Chinese leadership. With it, China has "eased tensions" with Taiwan. The opposition was trying to look like "the saviors of Taiwan" by making peace with China. Chen had started to go soft because he feared people would like this route, given the huge escalation of tensions. While that doesn't seem to be the case, Chen really isolated a lot of the pro-independence people from his camp.

I have to go with Dave C., to an extent, and you know how optimistic I generally am. Taiwan is still very democratic and wanting to be separate from China. However, this election was really nothing big and shouldn't be seen as much. The real test will come in 2008 when the next elections are. As you said, the Chinese think ahead. The nationalists are trying to set themselves up as the reconcilers and saviors of Taiwan. With Chen temporarily showing weakness and going soft on his pro-independence stance, we may as yet see the possibility that nobody thought of: that Taiwan goes nationalist.

Posted by: Robert Mayer at May 14, 2005 08:59 PM

TallDave -- Agreed. China's democratization is inevitable.

Posted by: Robert Mayer at May 14, 2005 09:00 PM

Sorry for making so many comments, just one more. The Nationalist Party also SUPPORTS the constitutional amendments that this national assembly is about to ratify. The vote count was going to obviously be low because, no matter what, the two major parties were going to vote it all ahead irregardless.

Posted by: Robert Mayer at May 14, 2005 09:07 PM

I wouldn't read too much into the low turn out. It's been either raining or pouring here for the last week. Not a gentle rain either, a huge torrential rain that has washed out roads and killed people in the mountains.

Add to that the bizzare household registration system that they use here. Bassically you vote where you are registered, not where you live. Some people, expecially land owners are registered where they live, but millions are registered in one city but live in another. This especially affects students, young people, and anyone who is not married. Those people tend to be registered where ever thier parents live. Since travel was dangerous or impossible on election day most of those people could not vote.



Posted by: Chris at May 14, 2005 09:19 PM

So did the rains affect the elections in a good or bad way? If most people didn't know about the elections! Will they know the next time?...Do the people register to vote like we do? It would be interesting to know how different voting is there! Are the majority of people happy with the results of the election?...I think I am Asking too many questions. Very interesting comments!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 14, 2005 10:05 PM

While not quite the same shenanigans has in China/Taiwan, get a load of what's going on in the LA Mayoral race:


The mayor's team with a major techno-PR boo boo didn't even lock up 2009. Don't they think they're going to win?

ow bloggers own the URL. Perhaps this is the next big thing, bloggers owning campaign URLs to insure unbiased coverage.

the haloscan stories link to the bloggers who grabbed the URL's here:


Posted by: T.Chung at May 14, 2005 10:12 PM

I also tend to agree there will eventually be a unification of the island with the mainland. And it'll be between two democratic states.

And, Robert, don't ever apologize for commenting too much. Your thoughts are always appreciated and welcome.

Posted by: Will Franklin at May 14, 2005 10:21 PM

Just want to add that the point above actaully favors the KMT/PFP since thier voters tend to be veny old and rich so they don't have to travel as much as DPP voters to get to the polls.

They may have had to get wet but they didn't have to go to the other side of the country to vote like so many DPP supporters.

Posted by: Chris at May 14, 2005 11:16 PM

Ironic isn't it that the "Nationalist Party", the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-Shek now wants reunification?

Posted by: DANEgerus at May 14, 2005 11:28 PM


If China and Taiwan were both democracies I still don's see the benefit for Taiwan to join them.

The difference between the economies is huge. Taiwan is a first world nation more comparable to Korea and Japan than anything else. China is dirt poor, Africa poor. Sure there are 100 million fairly well off people on the coast but more than a billion are still living in abject poverty.

Forget culture. From a purely economic point of view diluting 25 million rich votes in 1 billion dirt poor votes would be suicide. It would be like Kuwait joining Indonesia cuas they are both Moslem. It would not take long for Kuwait to be as poor as Indonesia.

Maybe some sort of free trade zone would be worked out but a common taxing authority would be the end of Taiwan and the Taiwanese know it.

Posted by: Chris at May 14, 2005 11:28 PM

Not only the rains affected turn-out. I saw very little advertising, TV, print or otherwise. Usually sound trucks blare political ads for days before an election. This one was blessedly quiet.

Also, I wonder if the two trips to China might have made the casual Pan-blue voter a little complacent..."hey, look talks are already happening" while the pan-Green voters might have been scared and thus vote in more numbers.

Aaron - Taichung

Posted by: Aaron at May 14, 2005 11:36 PM


In any unification scenario, their tax systems will not be harmonized. And, China is pretty tax friendly to rich people.

The benefits of direct links and trade would be enormous, though most of that is happening anyways. I wonder how many man hours would be saved by not having to fly through Hong Kong for every business trip to China?

And China is not Africa by a long shot.

Posted by: Aaron at May 14, 2005 11:41 PM


Yeah it was relativly quite this time around wasn't it.

I noticed a fair amount of appathy in the Green camp too. Lot's of Greens were mad at Chen for talking to Soong and not taking a stronger line with the recent trips to China.

All and all not much interest on either side.

Chris- Taichung

Posted by: Chris at May 14, 2005 11:41 PM

Chris, I'm pro-DPP, too, but I think you should be careful calling KMT voters mainly "old and rich."

Lots of people of all type vote for the KMT, including old veterans who are anything but rich. DPP supporters include many rich people, too.

Posted by: Aaron at May 14, 2005 11:45 PM

My wife just said she only knew about the election on Friday when her mother said her balloting info had arrived. As Chris, mentioned you have to go to your registered household (which could be far away from where you live) to vote.

For my wife, that's a 10 minute drive. She's a pretty steady voter, but I think the rain and the lack of excitement over the election made it an easy decision.

For me, I really like that they will reduce the number of legislators in office. That's awesome.

Posted by: Aaron at May 14, 2005 11:59 PM

China is not Africa at all but it is much much close to them economically that it is to Taiwan. I just don't see any benefit for Taiwan to be part of the same political system as China.

Sure it would be good to have free trade and trade links but you don't need to be the same contry to do that. Canada, Mexico and America already have that.

But with Taiwan's tiny population they would have basically no say at all in a Chinese democracy.

China has 1,306,313,812 people. Taiwan has 22,894,384.

Assuming they all voted together they would have 1.75% of the vote. Why dilute your political power that much unless you get something pretty huge for it.

I think the only way that they will unite is if China invades. Except for the hard core of Mainland refugees I don't think there is much support for joining China. And what little support there is outside the mainland refugees will disapear when the missles do.

Chris - Taichung

Posted by: Chris at May 15, 2005 12:01 AM

The registration system is probably something of a mystery for those of you oustide Taiwan so I will take a stab at explaining it. Arron can correct me if I get some of the details wrong.

First off it has very little to do with voting in the sense of being a registered voter like in the US or registered with Elections Canada. It is more like the German houshold registrations system.

It sounds more derogetory than I mean it when I say this but think of Dog licences for people. Every Taiwanese citizen has to register with the local government. The government keeps track of where you live, who is in your family ext. The registration is tied more to land than it is to people.

Lets look at my wife for example. She is registered at her parents house in Toufan (about 1 or 2 hours drive north of Taichung) because that is where she was registered when she was born. She has not lived in Toufan for 20 years but everytime there is an election she has to go there to vote for the candidates in that riding.

Until very recently it was very diffuclt to change your place of registration unless you owned the house where you were living. If you rent and you want to register at that adress you need the permission of the land owner. Land owners would not give permission because if you were registered then it was harder to sell the house (dont ask me to explain that one, crazy Taiwanese law)

There doesn't seem to be much penalty for not changing your registration when you move so many people dont bother. The end result is mass migrations on election day with the major parites chartering hundreds of buses to move voters around.

I hope you are right Arron that they will change the number of legistaors. They really need to fix there riding system as well. It has all the worst features of a first past the post system and a proportional rep system with none of the benefits of either.


Posted by: Chris at May 15, 2005 12:15 AM

That really is interesting! I would suppose many Americans take for granted the right to vote. It is easy to register and reregister. Democracy is something I would imagine most people want every where. It is a very strange concept to imagine not having the freedoms that we have as Americans... I really have enjoyed reading these comments! Thanks!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 15, 2005 12:38 PM

I am the one who should appologize for commenting too much!...Sorry!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at May 15, 2005 07:47 PM

I'm rather surprised that people are envisioning a peaceful reunification between two democratic states sometime in the future.
Chinese youth are in NO way completely distanced from the old line Communists; having debated and met many of them, a disturbing majority still hold the same knee-jerk reactions regarding Taiwan, that is, they better shut up or they'll get bombed.

I know it's a rather obscure reference but at a Korean-run gaming conference, of all places, one of the winners, who was Taiwanese, waved the ROC flag.
The Chinese players and journalists there raised a cryfest, and the Chinese embassy phone-called the Koreans demanding any footage with the flag be taken out.
This is of course a very obscure example of the youth in China, but if I remember correctly a Bush visit there to a university also had a student asking about Bush's usage of the term "Peaceful settlement" instead of "Peaceful reunification."

Plus, if China truly became democratic, there would be no point for reunification anyway, as China would stop threatening to bomb the island or making those sort of threats, and Taiwan could formally declare itself.

Posted by: Kevin at May 15, 2005 08:20 PM

To add to the weather comments, the KMT support is based in Taipei, where the rain was the worst. In fact, from noon Saturday to noon Sunday it rained 167 mm in Taipei County.

Posted by: Benjamin Thompson at May 16, 2005 01:50 PM