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Bid for peace accord with China backfires on Taiwan's president

Democratic Taiwan supports closer trade and economic ties with China, analysts say, but many prefer the political status quo.

By Correspondent / December 9, 2011

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou speaks at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum on Nov. 25.

Wally Santana/AP

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Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s proposal for a peace accord with long-time rival China has set him back in the polls of a tough election race as it kindles fears of an unwelcome change to the status quo.

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During his reelection campaign ahead of January's vote, the president has repeatedly hyped talks over the next 10 years of a first-ever deal with China to pledge not to fight with force. But the prospect of a formal peace deal has backfired on Mr. Ma and his Nationalist Party, reframing debate in the local media just as centrist voters prepare to pick a candidate.

The main opposition party claims a peace accord would be a sellout of self-ruled Taiwan to China. The public supports closer trade and economic ties with China, analysts on the island say, but many prefer the political status quo to preserve their hard-fought democracy.

The prospect of a peace accord with China has become the top political issue ahead of the election, which otherwise has been dominated by local economic and quality-of-life issues. Ma is running against Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the traditionally anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The last DPP president antagonized both Beijing and the US with his drive for independence from the mainland, and China and Taiwan did not negotiate formally throughout his presidency. 

Decades of conflict

Both China and Taiwan have braced for a conflict since the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war, fled to Taiwan, and set up a government there in opposition to the Communist Party, who had taken control of China.

The two jockeyed for control of outlying Taiwan Strait islets in the 1950s through 1970s. Since then, the US and the rest of the world have eyed the strait as a dangerous potential flashpoint in the region. China still claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and has not renounced the threat of force. 

But Beijing stopped mentioning the threat when Ma’s government came to power in 2008, instead making historic offers to set aside old disputes and talk trade as a means of bolstering the island economy while cooling tensions.

Substance of the peace pact?

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