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Terence Shen's Column

Think Again: Taiwan election and China’s unification


Think Again: Taiwan election and China’s unification

2012 is far cry from a year of no significance. Within 12 months, a series of political transitions will be seen in World Powers such as United States, China, France, Russia, South Korea and more than a dozen of countries around the globe.

The very first upcoming election is Taiwan Presidential and Congress election in mid-January. Duringelection season, the question of who will win the election is a gambit in most of the Taiwan TV news, political talk shows and even entertaining programmes.

Taiwan political institutions have made an astonishing progress in the past few decades. The political campaign now follows complicated rules and the election is competitive and vigorous.

According to the poll, the incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou from KMT in dead heat with Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen. As of Early January, the latest poll shows 38.8% would vote for Ma and 37.8% would vote for Tsai. The contest between the two is extremely close so that no one can be sure who will rule Taiwan in the next four years.

This is really excruciating to Chinese government on the other side of the Taiwan strait. After the miscalculation on Taiwan election in 2000, which resulted in the fall of KMT, China’s political authority and its affiliated think tanks stopped throwing their weight around during Taiwan elections, but did not make other great changes over its strategy for assessing Taiwan problems.

They are at longerheads with DPP as usually. They still too irritable facing up to the fear of success of DPP, which has been labeled as a threat to the peace in the region,  ignoring the fact that the pursuit of radical movement is not suited with DPP’s interests under institutionalized polarization of Taiwan politics.

For now, Chinese government is apparently trying to assist KMT to win the game fearing that DPP will took over the power. It was reported that few weeks ago, one Communist Party leader in Shanghai encouraged a group of delegates from Taiwan to vote for Ma instead of Tsai. It is again to the disadvantage of KMT that China is interfering Taiwan’s election.

However, the fear of independence and the yearn of unification are not the same thing. In an article calling for recognition of Taiwan sovereignty posted on The Diplomat website, the author noted that the unification withTaiwan, by force if necessary, is a top priority for Beijing. It seems a conventional wisdom that was firmly believed by Western audience. Unfortunately, it is not the case.

Of course, it is not exaggerating to say that whether Taiwan goes independence will determine the fate of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It should be noted that the Chinese politics is bust with exacerbating social unrest and corruption penetrated in the every level of China’s bureaucratic organs, and that CCP’s legitimacy solely depends on its economic performance with hyped statistics. In such a case, any military confrontation with strong powers such as U.S and Japan will likely shatter China’s twisted economic structure and undermine CCP’s legitimacy for one-party rule.

But If CCP stands aside, they will instantly lose support from Mainland Chinese people. Both ways are dead end. It is the last thing Chinese leaders wish to see.

In addition, the notorious Internet censorship and lockup of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyers also show that to maintain domestic stability at all costs is the top concern for Beijing government.

In another words, Chinese ruling party is not afraid of Taiwan independence per se. They fear that the claim of independence and ensued conflicts would jeopardize its dominating rule in mainland China.

How to maintain the status quo cross the Taiwan strait and retain its absolute political power is what they care the most, let alone unification with democratic Taiwan would bring democracy and freedom of speech closer to mainland Chinese under CCP’s rule. As a result, the unification is not and will not be on government agenda for mainland China in foreseeable future.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has recently published a report on the Taiwan2012 election and cross-strait relations. It states that if President Ma is re-elected for a second term, Beijing may become impatient for faster progress toward reunification and put pressure on Ma’s government to launch talks aimed at settling political differences.

This is another example to show that China observers tend to underestimate the significance of domestic issues. They have been misled by CCP’s overwhelming propaganda on nationalism. CCP treasures the détente of cross-strait relations, but unification is another story. To any authoritarian state, the survival and interests of ruling party is and will always be the top priority when it comes to domestic and foreign policy making.

(Terence Shen is a Chinese Journalist based in Hong Kong. Twitter: @Terenceshen)

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