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Taiwanese Voters Send Message to Taipei — and Washington

Many Washington analysts need to stop assuming that Taiwan wants to be absorbed by the Chinese leviathan and made its 34th province.

by
Gordon G. Chang

Bio

March 1, 2010 - 12:58 am
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Gilder, as we saw from Saturday’s election, gets the mood of the Taiwanese people wrong. They may want better economic ties with China — who doesn’t? — but they also want American arms to protect their society.

And they don’t want to be abandoned by the United States, something that more and more Washington analysts — like David Rothkopf, a Clinton-era official now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — think we should do. Americans should start paying attention to the fact that Ma Ying-jeou’s unificationist policies are increasingly unpopular. A poll, carried out by the Taiwan government at the end of last year and released late February, shows that no more than 37 percent of the public favor President Ma’s cross-Strait policies. That result was the worst of his presidency. Surveys by independent organizations show even less support for the now-embattled Taiwan leader and his China plans.

The remarkable fact of Taiwan politics is that, regardless of which party is in power and which organization conducts the polling, support for unification remains in the single digits. In an October poll, for instance, 8.3 percent of the public said they wanted Taiwan to become part of the People’s Republic, 29.3 percent favored wider international recognition of the island’s independent status, and 51.7 percent opted for the status quo — best described as de facto independence. These results are remarkably consistent with other surveys.

Lin Huo-wang, therefore, may be correct that the Kuomintang should try to rally its base by affirming its ideals, but the fact remains that most Taiwan voters do not support the party’s views on the core issue in island politics — namely, its political status with China. This divergence does not mean the KMT will necessarily fare poorly in the city and county elections this December, considered to be bellwethers for the all-important 2012 presidential contest. Many local factors will, of course, come into play in these contests.

Yet over time it is becoming clear that local factors are becoming less important to the outcome of local elections. With each successive KMT failure in even deep-blue districts — and with each DPP victory — an unmistakable trend is forming. These continuing successes for the independence-minded opposition means that it is time for Gilder, Rothkopf, and other Americans to stop assuming that Taiwan wants to be absorbed by the Chinese leviathan and made its 34th province.

Until the Taiwanese unambiguously tell us they desire to give up political freedoms they struggled decades to obtain, Washington needs to stand behind their vibrant democracy. That is the real meaning of the KMT’s string of electoral defeats.

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