The results of Taiwan’s last two elections have serious implications for cross-Strait ties, and therefore for U.S.-China relations. Elections held in November 1997 and January 1998 reflect the increasing complexity of the island’s political environment. In November, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a majority of mayoral and magistrate seats, giving the party the right to govern more than 72 percent of the population.
In the January 1998 elections for city council and mayors, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) reversed its political fortunes, winning 49 percent of the former and 55 percent of the latter. With this victory, the KMT ensured its continued control of all local councils and bolstered its chances of winning the parliamentary elections scheduled for late 1998.
The KMT’s resurgence may indicate the desire of Taiwan’s electorate not to provoke China. Actions taken by the KMT to enlarge Taiwan’s international presence, however, have been interpreted by China as tantamount to independence.
The softening of the DPP’s pro-independence stance, on the other hand, has increased its popularity. This can be seen as an attempt to appeal to the electorate as a moderate and mature party able to handle the responsibilities of national office.
During a recent trip to the U.S., DPP Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang reassured American officials by stating that the DPP was not so "immature" as to endanger East Asia’s regional stability and prosperity.
This statement, however, can not be taken as an abandonment of the DPP’s independence plank. Many on Taiwan take the position that it is already an independent entity.
In this climate of uncertainty poll results in Taiwan have indicated that people prefer the status quo and peace. The recent resumption of reunification talks, however, make this position less tenable.
Taken together, the election results demonstrate that the DPP does well in local elections, but that the KMT is likely to maintain its grasp on leadership at higher levels. Such a division of power in Taiwan would support U.S. interests in the cross-strait relationship.
The KMT’s and DPP’s adoption of more moderate stances on the issues of independence and reunification are welcomed by the United States, which bases its relations with China and Taiwan on the one-China principle.
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