Monday, January 14, 2008

Implications of the Taiwanese Election

For the past 10 years, Taiwan's politics has been dominated by the struggle between the Kuomintang (or Nationalists or KMT, leader of the Blue Coalition), and the Democratic People's Party (or DPP, leader of the Green Coalition), as well as the DPP's slight edge in parliamentary seats and ownership of the executive.

But that's all about to change. The struggle now seems a thing of the past; the Taiwanese people have handed the KMT a resounding victory in this month's parliamentary elections. The KMT will have 81 of the parliament's 113 seats, where the DPP's share has been cut down to 27.

What does this mean for future policy? The KMT is the old party of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, but since holding its first elections in the 1980's, has remained steadfast in promoting eventual reunification with the Mainland, and has sought stronger economic and political ties with Beijing. The DPP, and Green Coalition overall, supports Taiwanese independence, and has worked to try to politically isolate Taiwan from Beijing's grasp.

But the past 10 years have marked explosive growth for the Mainland's economy... and a mere puttering for the island of Taiwan. Chen Shui-Bian's pro-independence policies and aggressive saber-rattling have been seen by many in Taiwan as highly provocative to an increasingly powerful Mainland; one that, many feel, has a fully legitimate claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.

The KMT's landslide victory this month shows that the Taiwanese people hope for both greater economic growth and greater cooperation with Beijing, and perhaps sooner-than-thought reunification.

For the United States, a Taiwan that hopes for reunification will be a Taiwan that will begin to shed its close ties with Washington. Arms deals will shrink in time. US Gunboat Diplomacy in the Taiwan Straits area may never happen again. But most importantly, near-reunification and reunification mean that China and the United States will shed their most divisive point of contention--Taiwan will simply no longer be an issue for the two nations to quarrel over.

At that point, the US and China may be able to work a little harder at getting along.