Panel discusses impact of Taiwan’s new leader

by V. Paul

An election half a world away gave a local community plenty to disagree on in a panel discussion Wednesday sponsored by the University’s China Center and Culture Corps.
President-elect Chen Shui-bian’s victory in Taiwan’s March 18 general election means a new face to a half-century-old international dilemma: One China or two?
Defeated in the election was Vice President Lien Chan and the Nationalist Party, which has ruled since 1949.
The elevation of Chen and his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party could mean for capital-city Taipei an increased effort to move out of Beijing’s claim.
“I think we really should be careful not to downplay (Chen’s) strong streak of nationalism,” said Richard Kagan, a panel member and author of a Chen biography. “He sees himself as Chinese but he thinks there can be more than one state to accommodate all the Chinese out there.”
But the divide between Taiwan and China should not be seen as an ethnic one, but a political one, said Mei-Ling Hsu, a geography professor who attended the panel discussion. At a basic level, island and mainland citizens are the same people, she said.
Taiwan has been ruled separately from the mainland since Communists seized control of China during a 1949 civil war. China has maintained its claim on Taiwan, however.
Kagan attributed Chen’s victory to the split in his opposition’s supporters and for Lien’s lack of political savvy — his public appearances did not draw new support.
Chen’s victory is far from complete, however. Because this is the first victory for an opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party needs to establish itself as more than just a viable government, but a successful one as well.
“The next four years is make or break, not for Chen, but for the DPP. If they don’t do a good job, they won’t return to the presidency,” said Tsan-Kuo Chang, a panel member and journalism professor whose early career was as a reporter in Taiwan. “Actual changes will be in the next four years during the second term.”
And while Chen tries to settle his party into the governing role, he must walk the line between Taiwanese nationalism and the One China policy demanded by Beijing and adopted by the world’s leading nations, including the United States.
Chen has distanced himself from his party’s call for a referendum to allow Taiwanese citizens to vote on independence. He would support such a vote if China attacked.
But China will not attack, Chang said. “The whole world is watching what China will do,” he said. “And Taiwan will be able to defend itself to make China suffer.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]