Independent-minded Taiwanese Opposition wins: Controls most local government, worries Beijing.

January 16, 1998

THE CHARTER of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan calls for independence of the island from China. This is anathema to the Nationalist Party, which has governed since the end of World War II, and to the Communists ruling the rest of China. Both agree that Taiwan is part of China and must be reunited someday.

So both were shocked that the DPP won more than half the positions contested in local elections in November and now controls the local governments of nearly three-fourths of the 21 million Taiwanese people. It is possible to imagine the DPP winning parliamentary elections at the end of this year and the presidential election in 2000. The fat, then, would be in the fire. Beijing threatens military action should Taiwan declare independence.

Fortunately, the Chinese government through its "Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait" program has invited the new mayors and magistrates of the place it does not recognize to join a "trade delegation" that would "make contributions for the development of cross-straits ties." In other words, talk things over and get to know each other.

They ought to do it. No one knows better than these DPP politicians that their election was not a referendum on independence but a response to crime, pollution and local issues and to one party holding power too long. DPP leaders have been softening their rhetorical separatism, and ought to free themselves of it. They also are not assured of winning island power.

Taiwan is not recognized as independent by its own government or China's, by the United States or the United Nations. It is therefore not a country. It is also one of the most successful countries anywhere, defending itself, building prosperity and even attaining democracy. And Taiwan is escaping the infectious insolvencies spreading in East Asia. When the economic crisis is over, Taiwan is likely to emerge even stronger.

The reasons that gave rise to the argument that Taiwanese were a separate nationality have largely disappeared. China and Taiwan are entering into an economic partnership that is all the more important for not being openly admitted. It is time for Taiwan's Nationalist Party, for the rulers of China in Beijing and for the DPP oppositionists to make it possible for the DPP to come to power as part of the natural democratic scheme of things, without provoking a crisis across the Taiwan Strait.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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