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March 23, 2008
Taiwan elects Realist President
Voters in Taiwan slapped down the pro-independence movement and elected a realist who pledged to work with China to open new markets and integrate the island nation into a "common economic market" with Beijing:
Opposition party candidate Ma Ying-jeou won a landslide victory Saturday in Taiwan's presidential election, paving the way for greater attention to the economy and improved ties with the United States and China. Ma, a member of the dominant Kuomintang party, is marginally pro-American - he is fluent in English and spent some time working in New York City. He's also a Harvard grad who seeks a defense partnership with America that would see Taiwan taking more responsibility for its own defense.
"Taiwan will be a responsible stakeholder," Ma told reporters at his Nationalist Party campaign headquarters. Analysts attributed Ma's 17-percentage-point win to voter frustration with President Chen Shui-bian, known for his policy reversals, pro-independence rhetoric and rapid-fire staff changes.
"I'm really happy," businesswoman Jill Yeh, 51, said in front of Ma's campaign headquarters as thousands of people shouted, blasted horns, set off fireworks and held babies aloft. "We've all suffered enough."
Two controversial nonbinding referendums on whether Taiwan should apply to the United Nations for membership were defeated. Beijing would have seen passage of the measures as destabilizing and a threat to China's sovereignty.
The new president comes along at a time when the Communist leadership in China is getting impatient with their "lost province." The modernization of China's amphibious war capability - a program that will be complete in 4 or 5 years - reflects the fact that Beijing believed that Taiwan was pushing away from China and that the drive for total independence (which most Taiwanese believe would be suicide) was gaining favor with the electorate.
Ma defeated DPP candidate Frank Hsieh in a contest dominated by corruption charges against outgoing president Chen Shui-bian. Chen riled the Chinese with his belief in Taiwanese independence and efforts to achieve membership in the UN. It is hoped that Ma's more realistic approach to relations with China and the US will calm tensions that have flared up over the last 4 years under Chen's leadership.