Oct 11, 2011

Taiwan: Calls On Beijing To Embrace Democracy

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has pleaded with Chinese authorities to consider democratization, however, his cosy relationship with China may undermine his chances of being re-elected.  

Below is an article published by the Wall Street Journal.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou used the occasion of an important and politically sensitive date in Chinese history to call on China to embrace democracy, as Taiwan's opposition ratchets up criticism of his closeness to Beijing ahead of elections early next year.

Mr. Ma's call isn't new, but it came on the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown and China's first republic was established.

Though the Xinhai Revolution remains a sensitive topic in China due to its connection with the Kuomintang, Taiwan's ruling party, Chinese President Hu Jintao, at Sunday festivities set up to commemorate the anniversary, called for peaceful relations between the mainland and the island, though he also reiterated Beijing's call for unification and opposition to Taiwan independence. Officials at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs couldn't be reached late Monday.

In his speech in front of the Presidential Building in Taipei on Monday, Mr. Ma also promoted Taiwan's recent economic rapprochement with China, saying the 15 trade deals struck during his administration "were completed in a spirit of equality and with the benefit of the Taiwanese people as the government's first priority." Mr. Ma, who leads the Kuomintang, is pushing increased economic ties to China in an effort to reach an electorate that analysts say is worried about jobs and the economy.

At the same time, that push has left him vulnerable to criticism that he is too close to Beijing, which worries some voters who fear that growing economic ties with China is undermining Taiwan's chances for independence. Mr. Ma will face off against the opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen—who favors independence—in elections in January. For now, polls show Mr. Ma and Ms. Tsai neck and neck.

Lo Chih-cheng, president of Taiwan Brain Trust, a DPP-leaning think tank, said the speech was an indication that Mr. Ma was trying to frame the election around cross-Strait issues.

"The KMT is emphasizing that if the DPP wins then the current cross-Strait exchanges will be cut off or stalled, and that will cause concerns for the Taiwanese people," he said, adding that global financial unease has put the economy foremost in the minds of voters.

The DPP argues that the deepening ties to China have done little to address unemployment or Taiwan's large wealth gap.

Mr. Ma's message was delivered to a thin crowd on Monday during celebrations for what is known as National Day, but that had heavier emphasis on the Xinhai Revolution because of the 100th anniversary. It featured a demonstration of Taiwan air might in the form of a series of flyovers by fighters, helicopters and troop carriers over the capital Taipei.

The race has also been complicated in recent weeks by the potential entry of third-party candidate James Soong, who some say could steal votes from Mr. Ma. But polls have showed Mr. Soong's entry into the race could impact both candidates roughly the same, a potential indication of more widespread unhappiness among Taiwan voters.

The occasion itself also posed a challenge for Mr. Ma. Although the Republic of China was founded in concert with the Kuomintang shortly after the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, the events that ended the Qing Dynasty happened in China at a time when Taiwan was a colony of Japan. As a result many Taiwanese feel disconnected from the revolution.

Taiwan is still called the Republic of China as it became the haven for the Kuomintang after its leaders fled China following its loss of a civil war with the Communists in the late 1940s.

Seeking to find common ground between the revolution and modern day Taiwan, Mr. Ma said that it was at heart a democratic movement whose spirit is best expressed in modern Taiwan, a functioning democracy