Getting it right in the Taiwan Strait
Taiwan's first female presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, is running a close race against incumbent Ma Ying-jeou. Her campaign shows that East Asia’s most besieged democracy has not been quashed by anti-democratic regression at home or by intimidation from China.
With her American tour underway this week, Taiwanese presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen is showing Washington and her many supporters in Taiwanese-American communities across the country that the island’s anti-unification opposition party is back. And that it is stronger than ever.Skip to next paragraph
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This may come as a surprise to those who remember how decisively Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, won election in 2008, and how enthusiastically his victory was received in Washington. But public opinion polls show that Ms. Tsai, Taiwan’s first woman presidential candidate and a former vice-premier, is in a close race with President Ma, who is standing for a second term with pro-China policies as his signature achievement. Her steady leadership of the island’s opposition for the past three years and her competence in public policy have revived her party’s political prospects sooner than anyone had predicted.
The implications of this are reassuring. For one thing, it is encouraging news that East Asia’s most besieged democracy has not been quashed by anti-democratic regression at home or by intimidation from China.
More practically, this is an opportunity for policy makers in Taipei and across the Pacific to re-think their working premise that politically dubious accommodations of Beijing are necessarily the best way to manage stable and mutually beneficial relations over the long haul. A more principled approach is beckoning, even if Beijing is not yet ready to listen.
Disappointing benefits from China accommodation
Tsai and her band of aspiring office holders are on the front line of this debate. After four years of broad accommodation of Beijing under Mr. Ma, the received benefits have been deeply disappointing. Yes, the atmospherics between Taiwan and China have improved and the number of official visitors has exploded, giving more scope to greater mutual understanding.
But little has changed on the ground. Despite a modest boost in revenues from Chinese tourism, the net benefits to Taiwan’s economy have been minimal and arguably a setback in the longer term.