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Taiwan elections: US must show respect for self-determination

As Taiwan presidential elections approach Jan. 14, the US has shown a preference for incumbent Ma Ying-jeou – who says he can work with China. The US should set aside wishful thinking about unification and respect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future.

By Neal Donnelly and Fulton Armstrong / January 5, 2012

Taiwan's opposition presidential candidate, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, shakes hands with supporters Jan. 4. The US appears to be tilting against this pro-Taiwan candidate, a slap against the democratic values that America espouses.

REUTERS/Ashley Pon



The Taiwan question is an issue that almost everyone – except the 23 million people in Taiwan – wishes would go away.

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US officials generally hope that natural economic forces will pull Taiwan and China inextricably together, and that the current government in Taipei will engineer a deal with China that finally answers the question of two countries, or one unified China.

It is not that simple on either side of the Taiwan Strait. There is no evidence that the Taiwanese people want to unify with China, nor that the Chinese will compromise on their position that unification is the only acceptable outcome. The United States should set aside wishful thinking and face that reality with policies that respect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future.

As Taiwan prepares for presidential elections Jan. 14, the Obama administration, like its predecessors, has shown preference for the candidate of the  Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) – incumbent Ma Ying-jeou – who has cast himself as the man who can work best with China.

When challenger Tsai Ing-wen, candidate of the pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), visited Washington in October, a senior administration official told The Financial Times that she “left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations.”  A denial of that tilt has been unconvincing.

The elections in Taiwan, like the country’s future writ large, are for the Taiwanese to determine. The US should be prepared to accept the outcome of any transparent, inclusive, democratic process – whether that be formalization of Taiwan’s de facto independence from China, unification, or some commonwealth arrangement such as the one that Canada – an independent nation – has with the United Kingdom.

The fact is, however, that most Taiwanese are prepared to live with the status quo – full but undeclared independence. What riles them is their continued national humiliation.


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