March 24, 2008

HARRISONBURG— Today, in a special “Rapid Reaction” feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, analyzes the results of the presidential election and national referendums on Taiwan this past Saturday and discusses their implications for cross-strait relations.

While noting that conventional wisdom holds that the 17-point victory of former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party (KMT) over Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the race for the presidency of the Republic of China (ROC) “will improve relations between Taipei and Beijing, which had grown acrimonious during the presidency of Chen Shui-bian of the DPP,” Dr. Pham posits that “ such simplifications miss the significance of other, more subtle dynamics at work.”

For example, notwithstanding the fact that two referendums held in conjunction with the presidential poll failed to pass due to Taiwan’s unusually stringent constitutional requirements for such initiatives, the fact that nearly 10.5 million votes were cast in favor of Taiwan attempting to join the United Nations under some scenario, however unlikely, means that a separate national identity has taken root on the island and that the democratically expressed aspirations of its people for international recognition are likely to only gain momentum in the coming years.

Furthermore, while President-elect Ma has advocated a number of high-profile openings to the mainland, he has also embraced a more robust strategic vision, including pledges to strengthen ties with the United States, maintaining defense expenditures at a minimum of 3 percent of GDP “to counter Mainland China’s military modernization,” and lobbying Washington for approval of the sale of F-16C/D fighters.

The piece concludes that while “the results from last weekend’s vote in Taiwan herald a more cautious period in cross-strait relations,” the historic consolidation of the ROC’s vibrant democratic politics and the strengthened sense of Taiwanese national identity are just two of the long-term consequences of the poll which “will play increasingly significant roles in what is simultaneously one of the world’s most dynamic regions and one of its potentially most dangerous flashpoints.”

The full text of Dr. Pham’s feature, “Deconstructing Taiwan’s Election,” can be accessed by clicking here.