By Hugo Polanco
2012 is a year of elections, while the United States is awaiting 10 more months of mud slinging and campaigning, the Taiwanese have recently cast their votes for their President.The election has resulted in the imcumbent Ma Ying-jeou remaining in power for 4 more years as well as his party, the Kuomintang or KMT, remaining in power. This election not only was important to Taiwan but to China as well. In a bizarre twist of fate the Chinese Communist Party was avidly supporting their one time mortal enemies, the KMT. Their previous relationship can be described simply as a blood feud. The KMT was the party that massacred the communist in China and forced then on the Long March, these two also fought a horrible civil war and continued to constantly bicker and launch attacks both verbally and physically across the sea separating their domains so why do they seem so cozy with each other now?
The answer lies in China’s economy and Taiwan’s need to access it. This election was a referendum on President Ma’s policy of rapprochement with the mainland. Taiwan’s relationship with the mainland has always been shaky. The mainland claims Taiwan as a province while Taiwan enjoys de facto independence and a free and democratic society. In 2008 President Ma opened up to China and was awarded with trade deals, Chinese tourism and direct flights, all which have boosted Taiwan’s economy. The downside to the Taiwanese is the fear that China will use the increased economic dependence to coerce Taiwan into reunification sometime in the future.
For its part the CCP acted remarkably mature this election cycle. China and its ruling party have so far acted awkwardly towards human rights issues and democracy in the past. In 2010 a Chinese activist named Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. China reacted by imprisoning his family and threatening any country that dared send official representatives to the award ceremony. Previous Taiwanese elections have also been wracked with tension across the Taiwanese straits. On many occasions China has threatened the island with missile launches for daring to elect the wrong candidate. On the international arena this behavior has made China appear, for lack of a better comparison, like a giant toddler throwing a temper tantrum. These outbursts harmed China’s interests as they often served as nothing more than the anti-China candidates’ evidence that China is a threat.
This time China took a back seat, it did not threaten the island nor did it publically campaign for their preferred candidate. Their approach was probably calculated to dampen the perception among Taiwanese that President Ma is a mainland stooge and to deny the opposing parties any evidence that China is indeed a threat.
Post election the official response from the government has also been muted. A quick glance at the official Chinese media shows only the bellicose Global Times issuing a strong statement. For readers unfamiliar with the Global Times it offers as much legitimacy and largely similar editorial tone as Fox News. China may start to find that its economic clout will and softer tone will be much more effective in advancing their Taiwan policy rather than arms and shouting. For China Taiwanese business interests the region and the United States this is positive news. This could remove an irritant from the Sino-American relationship and help stabilize the region. For Taiwanese nationalists however this is catastrophic. For the Taiwanese this issue goes beyond economics to their identity and place in the world. Most now seems themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese, as much as the economic ties benefit them the danger of being absorbed into China still influences them. As Bi-khim Hsiao a Taiwanese researcher stated voting to tie Taiwan with China is done from the pocket book not the heart.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.