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A New President in Taiwan- New Hopes, Old Problems

M H Rajesh writes: As far as India goes, it needs to engage Taiwan far more, especially on the economic front. Just as Foxconn has set up facility in India, it must invite more Taiwan based businesses to choose India as a preferred investment destination.

Taiwan gets is first woman President, who represents the pro-independence party-the DPP after a eight year rule by KMT, which was an original espouser of One China. World and India need to note the development for several reasons, It is over a week since Tsai Ingwen, the first female President of Taiwan has assumed office as the President. The elections were held in January 16, where the Democratic Progressive Party won the elections wresting power from the Kuo Mintang (KMT). KMT is the political party which lost its battle to the Communists over mainland China in a tumultuous civil war in 1949, and established its rule in Taiwan.

Much water has flown beneath the bridge since then. In a sheer twist of history, Communist China, today finds its erstwhile arch rival, the KMT far more amenable than Tsai’s DPP. Therein lies the twist. The DPP arose as an antithesis to the three decade long KMT dictatorship by Chiang Kaishek and later his son, Chiang Chingkuo. The raison de etre of DPP’s genesis is in its name- democracy. It also stands for Taiwanese identity over One China.

The Taiwanese identity movement found fruition in 1996 when first direct elections were declared and Lee Tenghui, of KMT, yet a strong proponent of Taiwanese movement was likely to win. This was a harbinger to the end of a 35 year old love- hate narrative that defined cross strait relations.   To the mainland, the next logical process pointed to independence.

These ideas- democracy, localisation and independence movement, in Taiwan was not palatable for Communist China, which holds the One China principle dear. To influence and intimidate the Taiwanese electorate, missiles were fired across the narrow straits, which led to the third Taiwan Straits Crisis. President Clinton mobilised a US Carrier Battle Group, which balanced the situation. The elections went ahead and Taiwanese voted Lee to power.

In 2000, a DPP led coalition came to power. This commenced the preceding 16 years of yo-yo tenures between DPP and KMT governments in Taiwan. KMT led coalition came back to power in 2008 again. As widely expected, DPP wrested power back in the anti-incumbency wave in 2016.

The Communist China prefers KMT coalitions, since they are the original sparring partners with rivalrous glue that holds one China idea together. DPP is a next generation product, which not only doesn’t share that rivalrous heritage, but seeks independence. Therefore, relations between Taiwan and China have been good during KMT rule and typically tenuous during DPP rule. However, the prolonged KMT rule under President Ma Yinjeou had seen some bold economic and political measures bringing the two entities together culminating in the President Ma-Xi informal, yet historic, meet in Hotel Shangrila in Singapore.

It is in such a backdrop that President Tsai has taken office. How will cross straits relations move from here? DPP does not acknowledge the 1992 consensus about ‘One China’ which plays a pivotal role in cross straits relations. DPP also believes in Taiwan independence. Elections  campaigns the world over is often poetic, however governance is usually pragmatic. The cross strait economic and cultural engagements in the eight years of KMT rule has become far too deep for DPP to disengage overnight.  President Tsai is facing economic problems such as the pension funds issue at hand. China has expressed some concerns regarding President Tsai’s positions on 1992 Consensus, linking this to economy, which puts things in a bind.

As far as India goes, it needs to engage Taiwan far more, especially on the economic front. Just as Foxconn has set up facility in India, it must invite more Taiwan based businesses to choose India as a preferred investment destination. The tiny tropical island, punches far above its weight economically and politically in the Western Pacific. President Tsai’s ascendance to power gives just that opportunity which must be seized.

To read more see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/21/world/asia/taiwan-president-tsai-ing-wen.html?_r=0

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