Stability wins in Taiwan
Taiwanese voters chose stable and peaceful relations with China over tumultuous ones. In the presidential election on Saturday, Ma Ying-jeou, the incumbent president and head of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, beat his main rival Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party by a comfortable margin: 51.6 percent of the vote against 45.6 percent. Ma’s party also retained a majority in the legislature in the parliamentary election.
The latest victory by Ma and the Kuomintang translates into a victory of his pragmatic approach to relations with China. Since taking office in 2008, Ma has sought three basic principles — stability, safety and reassurance — in Taiwan’s relations with China, together with three restraints: no ambition for unification, no pursuit of independence and no use of the armed forces.
Based on these ideas, he has realized three links with the mainland — direct postal, transportation and trade links — not to mention signing with China the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a de facto free trade agreement aimed at reducing tariffs and commercial barriers between the two. Thanks to his strategy for growth in bilateral relations with China, the Taiwanese economy registered a stunning 10.8 percent growth in 2010 followed by a solid 4.6 percent growth last year amid the global recession.
Ma’s re-election represents Taiwanese voters’ support for his policies, exemplified by his prioritizing the economy over politics and addressing easy challenges first and difficult ones later. His victory also suggests the Taiwanese have backed Ma’s conciliatory approach toward China over Tsai’s persistent call for the island’s sovereignty. And both China and the United States have issued official statements welcoming the results of the elections in Taiwan.
With Ma’s victory, trade and exchange across the strait are expected to increase further, along with more intensified economic cooperation in the private sector. This is one more reason for the Lee Myung-bak administration to actively engage in negotiations for an FTA with Beijing. The government has already wasted four years in its relations with Pyongyang by adhering to the principle of reciprocity. Of course, North Korea is more responsible for the deterioration of bilateral relations.
Most importantly, it is in Taiwan’s flexible and pragmatic approach to China that our government should seek a resolution to the stalemate between Seoul and Pyongyang.