International Papers

Who Won Taiwan?

The victory of pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan’s second democratic election Saturday was described as “resounding,” “historic,” and “unprecedented” by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “major” by the Hong Kong Standard, and “comfortable” by Britain’s Observer. Chen ended the 55-year rule of the Kuomintang (KMT) Party when he took 39.3 percent of the vote, ahead of independent James Soong Chu-yu’s 37 percent and the 23 percent of Vice President Lien Chan.

While most pre-election stories focused on mainland China’s bellicose warnings that it would not permit Taiwanese independence, the consensus of the post-election analysis was that character and corruption within the KMT had more impact on the election’s outcome. The Age of Melbourne said “the rout of the KMT—a political apparatus once so entrenched it seemed immovable—is the full measure of the maturity of this still-young democracy. Taiwan has done what Indonesia did last year. It has ditched authoritarian rule in favor of a former dissident.” The Financial Times described Chen’s victory as “a reaction to the lawlessness and corruption that flourished under the losing National Party [KMT].” The Hong Kong Standard blamed the results on “money politics”; the split caused by the candidacy of Soong, a former KMT secretary-general; and Lien’s “lack of charisma.” In an editorial Monday, the SCMP put the onus on President Lee Teng-hui. It pointed out that Soong quit the KMT when Lee chose Lien to be his successor, and that even without a party machinery Soong won 15 of Taiwan’s cities and counties compared with Chen’s 10. “Had he been allowed to run as a KMT candidate, he would have won and the KMT would have been able to remain in government.”

Both Chen and his vice presidential running mate, “pioneer feminist” Annette Lu, were jailed in the late ‘70s by the KMT and, according to the Observer, Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-jen, has used a wheelchair since she was hit by a truck 15 years ago “in an ‘accident’ no one believes to have been genuine.” The Observer quoted one voter’s reasons for supporting Chen: “He comes from a poor family and understands us. We aren’t bothered about China: it’s just empty words from Beijing.” Another said, “He’s not corrupt and he doesn’t have a big clique.” Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party will have 70 seats in the legislative assembly against the KMT’s 123. Britain’s Sunday Times said Chen’s “greatest domestic challenge is a Nationalist-dominated legislature that could thwart much of his mission to clean up politics.”

Wen Wei Po of Hong Kong, which supports Beijing, said that Chen’s victory “will increase the likelihood of using force to solve the Taiwan question,” and China’s Science Times accused him of “gambling with the happiness of the Taiwanese people” since “Taiwan independence means war.” The Chinese state news media made only a brief mention of Chen’s triumph in what it described as Taiwan’s balloting for “local leaders” and repeated that the results would not affect Taiwan’s status as “an inseparable part of China.” China’s People’s Daily said, “We should listen to what the new leader in Taiwan says and watch what he does. We will observe where he will lead cross-Straits relations.”

Chen is the first Taiwan-born citizen to become president. According to the Hong Kong Standard, contemporary Taiwanese society is “a far cry from a migrant society led by mainlanders as recent[ly] as two decades ago.” The paper also said that the gap between Taiwan and the mainland will grow if China “does not catch up fast by developing democracy. With a Taiwan that is more indigenous and democratic, Beijing will find it even more difficult to talk about reunification.” ABC of Spain, in an editorial headlined “We Are All Taiwan,” said that the conflict between Beijing and Taipei is about democracy rather than sovereignty. It concluded, “The former Formosa is the only China that the Chinese can refer to to see … that freedom is possible. We must defend it.”

As President Clinton began his five-day trip to the Indian subcontinent Sunday, there were complaints about lack of media access during the visit. According to the Hindustan Times, the Indian press will have only one brief opportunity to question the president. “Reliably sourced reports say that the idea of holding a Press conference was dropped because the White House mandarins decided that it would be impolite and politically unwise to expose Clinton to the media, what with the unabated US media speculations on First Lady Hillary Clinton’s role in the decision to stop over in Pakistan.”

The Times of India reported that several of the cities he will visit are “sprucing up for the bossman. But not all residents here are rooting for the whitewash job. Some resent the implication that while filth and squalor are fine for us to live in, they should not offend the patrician gaze of the visiting VVIP.” A leader in the Statesman of Calcutta also addressed the cleanup: “The idea is to make a terrific impression, like a man who borrows a suit for an interview. What is the alternative? Let Clinton see the garbage? In any case, he knows that it exists, which is partly why the United States is yet to take our great power aspirations seriously. The fresh coat of paint doesn’t hide the fact that this country is not populated exclusively by IT millionaires.”