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Taiwan's President Will Seek To Parlay Victory Into Talks

By Sheila TefftStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 25, 1996



TAIPEI, TAIWAN

BUOYED by his election triumph, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui has pledged to make peace with China. What Taiwanese now ask is, Will China listen?

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Saturday's presidential vote was a resounding win for the island's incumbent leader. China threatened Taiwan with military force and vilified Mr. Lee in the weeks leading up to the election, but he commanded a surprising 54 percent of the vote and crushed three opponents favoring either independence or conciliation with the mainland.

More than 10 million Taiwanese flocked to the polls, a rousing 76 percent turnout in an election that was the first ever for a head of state in millenniums of Chinese history.

China claims Taiwan as part of the mainland and has accused Lee of secretly plotting to lead the island toward independence, a claim he denies. Instead, Lee says he favors reunification but hedges that democratic change on the Communist mainland must come first.

The rival Chinas have been divided since 1949, when mainland Communists defeated Gen. Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, who took refuge on Taiwan and set up their own government.

Three-quarters of Taiwanese voters Saturday rebuffed China, either supporting Lee's middle-of-the-road stance or the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which won second place with 21 percent of the vote.

Still, amid the political euphoria, Taiwanese wonder if their domineering neighbor will compromise with a president who was elected for defying China.

"Lee Teng-hui reflects the reality for the majority: Taiwanese can't accept the ways of China. We want to make our own choices and control our own lives," says Lee Tao, a Taiwanese TV talk show host often likened to CNN's Larry King.

"Lee Teng-hui ... must be concerned and deal carefully with China," he observed, urging the president to seek middle ground. "He can't go across the line."

With the latest of China's war games off the Taiwan coast expected to end today, a respite from recent tensions seems to be under way. Beijing began mounting military pressure on the island last summer after Lee made a private visit to the US. The trip was seen by China as another attempt by Lee to raise the island's international profile and lead it toward independence.

The second of two US battleship groups led by the USS Nimitz arrived in the waters off Taiwan this weekend. Earlier, the USS Independence, another aircraft carrier, was dispatched to the area to check possible Chinese aggression. China has vowed to attack Taiwan if it declares independence.

Yesterday, Taiwan's newly elected vice president, Lien Chan, said the island would seriously seek a peace agreement with the mainland, although the process would take time. Before the election, Economic Minister Chiang Pin-kung called for boosting Taiwan's already extensive trade and investment ties with China.

National consensus

Before starting his new term on May 20, Lee is expected to call a national conference to seek consensus on mainland policy. He could also ease his campaign to raise Taiwan's international profile and revive talks to open direct transportation and communication ties with the mainland Taiwanese, analysts say.