Busy Beijing’s low-key approach to Taiwan’s presidential election

March 22nd, 2008 - 10:49 am ICT by admin  

Beijing, March 22 (DPA) Preoccupied for the last two weeks with Tibetan independence protests and the diplomatic fallout from its attempts to contain them, mainland China’s ruling Communist Party has taken a low-key approach to Taiwan’s presidential election. The election has taken a back seat for a cautious government concerned that its tough, threatening stance may have helped sway the 2000 presidential election for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The government’s attention is focussed instead on efforts to limit damage to its international image as its cracks down on violent protests in Tibetan areas.

The influential Southern Weekend newspaper Friday ran a front-page preview of the Taiwan election with a large photograph of Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) contender Ma Ying-jeou’s supporters at an election rally in Taipei.

“In this election the smoke and the shouting are not as exciting as in the last one (in 2004), but there are still many mysteries,” it said.

The newspaper avoided any comment on the relative merits of the two presidential candidates and did not mention the Chinese government’s position or its broader policies on Taiwan.

If Ma wins, China will expect him to make good on his promises during his election campaign to improve relations between Taipei and Beijing, which remained fractious during Chen Shu-bian’s eight years as Taiwan’s president.

The Communist Party accuses Chen of seeking formal independence for the island that it still sees as a breakaway province to be “reunified” with the mainland eventually, by force if necessary.

Over the last three years, it has apparently tried to isolate Chen.

In the absence of formal talks with the DPP, it has arranged several high-profile visits by former KMT leader Lien Chan and other opposition leaders over the past three years.

Lien’s first meeting with party leader and state President Hu Jintao in 2005 was the highest-level contact between the two parties since the KMT fled to Taiwan in 1949 following a civil war.

State television gave his trips similar blanket coverage to visits by US President George W. Bush and other international leaders.

Premier Wen Jiabao last week promised to expand the range and scope of business with Taiwan, saying the mainland was “ready to make necessary sacrifices” to “serve the interests of people in Taiwan”.

“We will continue to increase exchanges in economic and trade fields with Taiwan, particularly we want to resume the three direct links between the two sides as quickly as possible,” Wen told reporters, referring to postal, trade and transportation services.

At the start of this month’s National People’s Congress, China’s nominal parliament, spokesman Jiang Enzhu reiterated the government’s opposition to Taiwan’s referendum on the island’s UN membership.

He warned that Chen and other leaders were “destined to pay a dear price” if they moved towards formal independence for the island, but Beijing’s initial angry opposition to the referendum has also subsided in the last few weeks before the election.

Jiang announced an increase in China’s military budget for this year by another 17.6 percent, following similar large defence hikes in recent years.

He defended the increase as “moderate” and necessary for military modernisation, rejecting a US military report Monday that said China’s military build-up could fuel instability in Asia, particularly in the Taiwan Strait.

Wen also defended the budget hike but he did not use the mainland leaders’ usual threat that they “reserve the right to use force” if Taiwan declares formal independence or stalls on holding talks.

Yet whoever wins the election will know that sooner or later, perhaps after the Olympics this August, the Communist Party is likely to begin applying pressure for the new Taiwan leader to hold talks on “peaceful reunification”.

“We will work for the early resumption of cross-Strait negotiations on the basis of the one-China principle to address major issues of concern to compatriots on both sides,” Wen said in his government work report for 2008.

“Reunification of the two sides is inevitable in the course of the great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation,” he said.

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