Aftermath of Taiwan vote
Voters on Taiwan rejected the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) on March 18 by
electing as president Chen Shui-bian. Chen and vice-president-elect Annette
Lu were democracy activists beginning 20 years ago challenging martial law.
They have the credentials of their opposition, having suffered imprisonment
and even physical retaliation by the secret police.
In February on the eve of the election, Beijing had threatened drastic
measures-military force-if Taiwan declared independence, or even
indefinitely delayed steps toward unity. Its military posturing was less
dramatic than during the 1996 elections, when it test-fired missiles in
nearby waters. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party is the party associated
with independence for Taiwan, but that was not its campaign issue. A vote
for Chen was the only way to oppose the corrupt KMT, although such was its
continuing clout as a political machine that Chen's victory over a divided
KMT was with just under 40% of the vote.
The KMT had welcomed the people of Taiwan back from a half century of
Japanese colonial rule with a bloody massacre on Feb. 28, 1947. Two years
later three million soldiers, bureaucrats and hangers-on fled ahead of Mao
Zedong's advancing army to Taiwan for refuge. The KMT's claim to be the
legitimate government of all China with plans to reconquer the mainland
became more fantastic with every passing year, but it was the pretext for
controlling Taiwan with an iron hand under martial law and for continued
U.S. bankrolling of the economy and military. Even today, three decades
after Nixon's China diplomacy, the U.S. remains Taiwan's high-tech arms
There is no doubt that reunification remains a pillar of government policy
in Beijing, now as under Mao. In 1949 they could not not have followed the
KMT to Taiwan, especially after the U.S. guaranteed its security. What
undercuts the warmongering from Beijing today, and caused Beijing to offer
more conciliatory words immediately after Chen's election, is not so much
whether China has the ability to intervene, but rather its dependence on an
inflow of foreign capital to fuel economic growth still projected at 8% a
year. Taiwan capitalists taking advantage of lower-paid workers on the
mainland are central to that growth.
Chen has already stated that Taiwan is not interested in autonomy on the
model of Hong Kong's return from colonial rule. But in the wake of his
election, the legislature removed the ban on direct trade with the mainland
and transport and postal connections left over from the half-century-old
state of war.