Taiwan poised to warm ties with China
Both presidential hopefuls in Saturday's election want to boost economic relations.
(Page 2 of 2)
Mr. Ma has an edge in the economic debate, which is why most analysts suggest that he'll win this weekend. Many islanders blame Mr. Hsieh's Democratic Progressive Party for Taiwan's poor economic performance. Real incomes are flat and Taiwan has lagged behind its fellow Asian "tigers" on indicators such as per capita gross domestic product.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Many voters, disillusioned with the party's corruption scandals and bumbling eight-year rule, want a change. And Ma is seen as an upright politician with an appealing economic plan.
Still, observers say Hsieh is mounting an 11th-hour comeback. "He's catching up," says analyst George Tsai. Hsieh has done that in part by running a relentlessly negative campaign. He has attacked Ma's patriotism and tried to scare voters with the prospect of a "one China market" under Ma that would see Chinese laborers, low-quality Chinese products, and Chinese agricultural imports flood into Taiwan. (Ma insists he would not allow in Chinese laborers and would limit Chinese imports.)
The unrest in Tibet gave Hsieh an opportunity to turn voters' focus to Taiwan's sovereignty, an issue where his party has an edge. Hsieh has said that if the more China-friendly Ma is elected, Taiwan could become another Tibet. Ma rejected this and lashed out at Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for saying Tuesday that Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should decide Taiwan's fate.
He called Mr. Wen "ruthless, irrational, arrogant, foolish, and self-righteous" – a clear attempt to avoid being seen as soft on China.
In fact, the two candidates agree that Taiwan is a sovereign state whose future can only be determined by the Taiwanese. Ma has been sharply critical of China in the past, saying, for example, that Beijing should apologize for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and that it must remove the 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan before peace talks can begin.
That record has convinced many Taiwanese that he can protect the island's democracy. Chen Kai-lun, a flower-shop owner in Taichung, says he doesn't buy Hsieh's scare tactics. "Ma won't sell us out. I trust him."
Beijing prefers Ma
For its part, Beijing would prefer Ma as president, because his party has traditionally opposed Taiwan independence. Observers expect a President Ma would make quick progress on tourists, investment, and direct flights, while Beijing would be more wary of Hsieh. "If Hsieh gets elected, Beijing will wait and see what Hsieh does after he takes power," says Jin Canrong of Renmin University of China in Beijing.
In Kinmen, people are focused on livelihood issues. "The economy's not good; it's hard to bear," says KMT supporter Chen Zan-sheng.
Outside a nearby restaurant popular with Chinese tour groups, Kinmen government official Fu Yang-tu says this view is common. "People in Kinmen support whoever has better policies for the economy," says Fu. "Most think Ma's are better."
That's not surprising – 90 percent or more on this outlying island support the KMT. But in this election, many Taiwanese are joining Kinmen's residents by voting with their wallets, not their hearts.