A week after the presidential election, the Japan Times got around to commenting on it in an editorial ("Taiwan takes a new approach" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20080329a1.html):
"The election of Mr. Ma Ying-Jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九, the Nationalist 中国国民党 (KMT) candidate, in Taiwan's presidential campaign last weekend could herald a diminution of tensions in the Taiwan Strait 台湾海峡, one of the remaining legacies of the Cold War 冷戦 and a potential nuclear flash point. Mr. Ma has called for closer relations with the mainland. More importantly, he pledged that his administration would emphasize economics, rather than the political identity of Taiwan, a marked departure from the approach of the incumbent president, Mr. Chen Shui-bian (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁. This return to pragmatism in Taipei is welcome."
The gist of the editorial is that Taiwan's voters focused on the state of the economy than on issues related to Taiwan's identity when it came time to cast ballots. The JT's editorial staff claims not to have been surprised by the extent of Ma's win:
"In his campaign, Mr. Ma...vowed to focus on the economy. That won over most voters, who elected him over Mr. Frank Hsieh (Sha Chōtei) 謝長廷 of the...Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党 (DPP), by a 58 to 42 percent margin. The results were expected. The KMT and two small affiliates claimed three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections in January and the KMT runs 15 of Taiwan's 25 largest cities. In fact, the prospect of KMT domination of both the executive and legislative branches was one of the most important influences on voter thinking in last weekend's ballot."
Personally, I like the idea of having checks and balances in my executive and legislative branches, but the people of Taiwan have spoken:
"Taiwanese voters know better...Closer relations with (China) do not mean that reunification is around the corner. Most Taiwanese want independence, but they recognize what is not within their grasp. They seek pragmatic accommodation that allows them to prosper while protecting their hard-won democratic freedoms."
So what happens next? According to the Japan Times:
"The biggest concern now is Beijing's understanding of Taiwanese politics. It has wooed KMT leaders for several years and they have reciprocated. But if Beijing expects the new president to sharply alter course, then it is sure to be disappointed. Mr. Ma has said that 'before we can talk about peace, we need to remove the threat,' a reference to the 1,000 missiles reportedly arrayed against Taiwan. Mr. Ma has also promised to increase defense spending to about 3 percent of GDP. That does not sound like a man ready for unification. Fortunately, with the Olympics on the horizon, China will have little appetite for tension."
Can Ma really stand up to Beijing? We'll just have to wait and see. But for the JT, there are things to consider closer to home (i.e. Japan):
"Mr. Ma also reportedly wants to elevate relations with Japan. Japan overtook the U.S. in 2006 as Taiwan's second-largest trading partner: Two-way trade nearly reached $63 billion, and 2.3 million tourists were exchanged. While the KMT has traditionally been cool on relations with Tokyo, Mr. Ma is said to want to launch negotiations on a free-trade agreement. Those talks will be tricky: China is sure to take offense at any deal that appears to prevent reunification."
One of the few things the Chen administration has done well during the past eight years is in fostering a closer relationship with Japan. Let's hope Ma understands the importance of this. The editorial concludes by stating:
"Mr. Ma has his work cut out for him. But the scale of his victory should provide a solid foundation for his administration. Taiwan's voters appear to understand his priorities and appear ready to back a pragmatic agenda. Most significantly, the alternation of power — from KMT to DPP and back to KMT — is powerful reassurance about the state of democracy in Taiwan."
The next few years are going to be, ahem, "interesting" for Taiwan...
The Times also had an article on the election in its commentary section this morning. "Bridge just got started across the strait" http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20080328fc.html is by Frank Ching, a Hong Kong-based hack whose anti-democratic, pro-Beijing (and often anti-Japanese) writings are unsurprisingly carried by the local China Post. In this piece, Ching writes:
"...there is no longer any need for China to fear that Taiwan may seek de jure independence. The past eight years have shown that it is a cause without support from the international community and, in fact, from the majority of Taiwan's population. This is an opportunity for China to win the minds and hearts of the people of Taiwan. This is the time to agree on such things as direct flights and shipping, tourism and investment, which will enable people on the mainland and on Taiwan to get to know each other better. Perhaps, at the time of Ma's inauguration, Beijing can make a dramatic gesture, similar to one it made almost three decades ago when, on the occasion of normalization of Sino-American relations, it announced an end to 20 years of shelling the offshore island of Quemoy 金門. Now is the time for Beijing to show its good will to the people of Taiwan by getting rid of the thousand or so missiles mounted along the Chinese coast and pointed at the island. After all, China has said repeatedly that its weapons are not to be used against its Taiwan compatriots, but only against those who want to split Taiwan from China. Now that the splittists have been defeated and are stepping down, there is little reason to continue to hold a gun to Taiwan's head, especially if the two sides are going to sit down and talk. Who can say that talks are being held on the basis of equality when one side has a gun pointed at the other? The ball is now in China's court. Delicacy and finesse are required and Beijing will have to prove that it is up to the task."
I do have to hand it to Ching: whereas most commentators have been patting Taiwan on the back for successfully conducting a democratic election, Ching sees Ma's victory as a golden opportunity for China to restore the Qing Dynasty 清 empire. I have the sad feeling that Frank Ching is the only one calling it right here.