There were two ways to interpret the recent Taiwan election. One was as a victory for stability, because the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate for governor of Taiwan beat the pro-independence candidate handily. The other was as a provocative slap at the local establishment and at Communist China, because the independence candidate won for mayor of Taipei, the capital city, with 44 percent in a three-way race.
The Taipei stock market chose the first interpretation. It surged. Clearly, Taiwanese capitalists believe their boat is not rocked. They remain confident the fiction that Taiwan is not a country will let it go on being the one with the largest foreign currency reserves, the 14th largest economy and the most impressive transition to democracy in Asia, with only 21 million people. This tiger will not roar, out of respect for the dragon.
Immediately after the election came the visit of U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, the first U.S. cabinet officer to visit Taiwan since Jimmy Carter de-recognized it in 1979 as the price for relations with China. President Clinton is wisely expanding the Taiwan relationship incrementally.
The Pena visit is a small victory for President Lee Teng-hui's policy of sovereignty by stealth. In theory, he agrees with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing that there is only one China and pretends to be president of it. Since the Republic of China government purports to govern all China, its governor of Taiwan governs everywhere the president does. This was the first free gubernatorial election since martial law ended in 1989, and paves the way for a free presidential election in 1996.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DDP), which seeks independence, did not win the loyalties of the 85 percent of the electorate who speak Taiwan dialect. They returned the governor, James C. Y. Soong, who cannot speak Taiwan dialect and represents the ruling Chinese who arrived only after the collapse of Nationalist China in 1949. But the DDP success in Taipei gives it an important platform for 1996. The issue of Taiwan's eventual fate is kept open. The Communists are not given assurance of eventual reunification, yet are not provoked with repudiation of it.
In fact, there are two Chinas, while both agree there is only one. They profit from closer relations and increasingly need each other. The election on Taiwan did not change that, but did rub in the truism that if you believe in free elections, you have to accept the results.