By Denny Roy
The milestones continue:
Taiwan’s democratization reached one milestone in 2000 with the passage of control of the executive branch from the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party, KMT) to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). With the return of the KMT to power following the recent elections, which I observed first-hand, yet another and equally important turning point has occured.
The KMT was the party of Chiang Kai-shek and had ruled Taiwan during the entire postwar period. The DPP, organized only in 1987 because of KMT restrictions on opposition parties, represented the “Taiwan first” viewpoint of the island’s majority population, ethnic Chinese communities of long-standing residency (as opposed to the “Mainlanders” who came to Taiwan after 1945). With democratization, however, came increased tensions with China, because the “Taiwan first” outlook does not conform to Beijing’s vision of Taiwan as a province of the PRC.
The troubled eight-year presidency of the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian has drawn to a close.
With the victory by KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan has reached another milestone: the return to power of the ousted KMT, now much transformed from Chiang Kai-shek’s days. For foreigners, what is most significant about this development is the prospect of a relaxation of cross-Strait tensions. Chen mightily antagonized Beijing. He specified that one of his objectives was to clarify the differences between Taiwan and China; Chinese officials called him a separatist and a traitor to the Chinese nation. Ma, however, accepts the principle that Taiwan is part of “one China,” with the possibility of eventual unification with the mainland. This may be all that Beijing needs to hear for the resumption of semi-official cross-Strait talks and a focus by both sides on economics rather than military contingencies.
Denny Roy is an East-West Center Senior Research Fellow whose work has focused mostly on Asia Pacific security issues, particularly those involving China. He is the author of Taiwan: A Political History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).
For more discussion of the upcoming election, read Roy’s EWC Asia Pacific Bulletin issue “Taiwan’s 2008 Legislative Elections: DPP’s Pain is U.S. and PRC’s Gain” and the November 15, 2007 EWC in Washington’s event report, “Prospects for Taiwan-PRC Peace Under New Leaders.”