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Opposition win may bring Taiwan closer to China

The resurgence of pro-China opposition party, Kuomintang, which took a majority in Saturday's legislative elections, boosts its chances for the presidential vote in March.

By Jonathan AdamsCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 14, 2008

Surprise sweep: Supporters of Taiwan's opposition party Kuomintang celebrate its win in the legislative vote outside party headquarters Saturday.

Nicky Loh/Reuters

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Taipei, Taiwan

The resurgence of Taiwan's opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which picked up a majority in Saturday's parliamentary vote, could usher in a significant thaw in cross-Taiwan Strait relations with China, especially if it goes on to win the presidency in March.

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A more powerful KMT is widely expected to forge closer economic ties and restart political talks with Beijing, unlike the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). "The future of cross-strait policy will be more conservative and moderate with this legislature," said Taipei-based political analyst Hsu Yung-ming.

On Saturday, the DPP was sharply cut down to size, picking up only 27 seats in a 113-seat legislature, compared with KMT's 81.

The KMT's win, which may boost its chances in the key presidential vote two months away, means that it now has a strong enough majority to recall the president and block any moves to formalize Taiwan's de facto independence through constitutional change.

If it wins the presidency on March 22 – by no means a sure thing – the KMT would end eight years of DPP rule.

China considers self-governing Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, but the potential thaw shouldn't be overstated. The KMT will be constrained from getting too cozy with Beijing by the fact that most Taiwanese want to keep the political status quo, under which Taiwan is an independent, democratic country. Unification would simply be a nonstarter.

Beijing prefers a dominant KMT in Taiwan, but it's unclear just how welcoming it would be of KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou. Mr. Ma has openly criticized China's "anti-secession" law and human rights record, and demanded it withdraw missiles aimed at Taiwan before any political talks can start.

Still, it's expected that the KMT will move quickly on at least two measures long awaited by Taiwanese businessmen and others: direct cross-strait flights (now, passengers must touch down first in Hong Kong or another third location) and the lifting of restrictions on China-bound investment.