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Beijing considers Taiwan nothing more than a renegade Chinese province. Related Gully Stories:


How Taiwan's past influences its present.

Showdown in the Sour Pacific

by Kelly Cogswell

MARCH 24, 2000. Days before Taiwan's presidential election on March 18, China rattled its sabre at the island, threatening it with forcible unification if it dared to elect the pro-independence party candidate, Chen Shui-bian.

The proud Taiwanese, who had been wavering between Chen and the conciliatory candidate James Soong, sent a Bronx cheer towards China and voted for Chen.

Their main objective was to get rid of the ruling Nationalist party, the Kuomintang (KMT). The Taiwanese were sick of their dirty business deals, alliances with mobsters, vote buying, and nepotism. KMT's assets at this point are reputed to be about $6.5 billion.

Now, Chen and his Vice President Annette Lu, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), face a Nationalist majority in the legislature, a distrustful China, and a discredited ruling Nationalist KMT party struggling to hold the country together until the pair take office.

mapRattling Sabres. The government in Beijing, as well as most mainland Chinese, considers Taiwan nothing more than a renegade Chinese province gone AWOL in 1949, when Nationalists fled to Taiwan from Mao Tse-tung's Communists, and seized the island by imposing martial law on the native Taiwanese.

Whether to save face, or prepare for forcible unification, China has been transporting missiles to the coast, and pointing them across the straight at Taiwan. The Taiwanese don't seem impressed since Beijing made the same sort of threats during the last election.

They also know that China has just begun to experience an improvement in its average quality of life. War would retard development, imperil U.S. support for its membership in the World Trade Organization, and leave its vast population, though pro-unification, disgruntled at the actual belt tightening.

Floundering Kuomintang (KMT). After 50 years of holding the country via martial law, the Nationalist party, under the leadership of Lee Teng-hui, facilitated Taiwan's transition from dictatorship to a democracy with a Taiwan-First policy. The country's first democratic elections of legislators were held in 1992. In 1996, Lee was elected president.

Since the March 18 electoral disaster, Nationalist supporters have been rioting violently against the leadership, accusing President Lee of increasing demagoguery, and of sabotaging KMT in the election by putting up as candidate the tepid Lien Chan, who reportedly makes Al Gore look exciting.

President Lee is also blamed for James Soong's bitter defection from the KMT, as well as for releasing damaging evidence that Soong diverted party money to private accounts in the past.

The Upstart PPD. The program of the Democratic Progressive Party includes a pro-independence plank, though in the days prior to the election Chen assured voters that the DPP priority was wiping out corruption and renewing the democratic process.

President-elect Chen Shui-bian. He has infuriated Beijing by declaring that Taiwan will only have relations with China as equals, though he toned down his rhetoric during his campaign, and since his election has been studiously conciliatory.

Chen first entered the political stage as a lawyer for pro-democracy advocates arrested in the "Formosa Incident" of 1979 when the first human rights day celebration in Taiwan ended with tear gas, violence (possibly initiated and planned by police), arrests, and forced confessions.

chen and luChen later served on the Taipei City Council. After eight months imprisonment for a libel charge stemming from legal representation of a pro-democracy magazine, he served on the Legislative Yuan, or parliament. In 1994 he won the first ever elections for Taipei mayor.

Annette Lu. Like Chen, Lu has not previously been a conciliatory figure. She told the Associated Press that "China should realize it is not dealing with just a piece of their land, but with 23 million well-educated, democratically-minded people." She added that "No Taiwanese would choose as their leader "a messenger from Beijing" who bows down to China's demands."

In the late 1970's, Lu was a member of the budding democratic opposition, and a leading women's rights advocate. She was imprisoned for five years for giving a speech at the "Formosa Incident". After her release, Lu studied at Harvard, and then returned to politics on the island in 1992, serving in the Legislative Yuan. She is presently County Magistrate for Taoyuan County.

Feminists and queers. When martial law ended, feminism took on new life as women from different social classes and sexual identities came together. The new feminist group Awakening was the first to give credence to lesbian views. Soon women's and queer studies emerged in universities. 1997 saw Taiwan's first Gay Pride Festival. Queer activists now take to the streets, while queer novels like Zhu Tianwen's Journal of an Outsider have found success in the Taiwanese mainstream.

Both feminists and queers are big supporters of the PPD.

U.S. Interests. Though the U.S. has been committed to Taiwan's defense from communist China since the Cold War, it has, since 1979, simultaneously endorsed the mainland's One China policy, and actively pursued the Chinese market. At this time, the Clinton administration is advocating China's entrance into the World Trade Organization.

If relations worsen between Beijing and Taiwan, which seems less and less likely at this point, the U.S. will have to chose between protecting its stake in the huge Chinese market, or protecting democracy in Taiwan. Though if there is a waffling solution to be found in the middle, Clinton will surely find it.

Related links:

For New Taiwan, Ilha Formosa , The Homepage for Taiwan's History, Present, and Future.

For Lavender Links of LGBT Taiwan.

For Tongzhi, Queers, Gays and Lesbians in Taiwan.

For Complete Coverage Asia

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