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The very model for a modern China

While China used bullets in Tibet, Taiwan used ballots to register dissent in an election.

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A week after China used bullets to quell protests in Tibet, voters in Taiwan used ballots to throw one party from office and put another in. The March 22 election was the second time this "Chinese democracy" saw a transfer of power, serving as a model for what China could be.

The election for president helped cement the return to power of the Nationalist Party (KMT), the anti-communist group that fled to the island in 1949 after China's civil war. The once-authoritarian party ruled over the native Taiwanese until it allowed democracy in 1987. After losing the presidency in 2000 and now regaining it, the KMT's new generation of leaders face a different dynamic across the Taiwan Strait: China is much more of an economic giant and more of a military threat with over 1,000 missiles aimed at an island it claims.

But democracies are funny, wonderful things, especially when they enjoy the safety of an American defense umbrella: The continuing threat from China wasn't much of an issue in the campaign and, in fact, even the old identity debate between native Taiwanese and mainlanders seemed to fade. (Only 5 percent of Taiwan's 23 million people now describe themselves as "Chinese.")

As in many democracies, Taiwan centered its campaign on the economy – the world's 17th largest – as well as on ending divided government and curbing corruption. The winner by a 17-point margin was Ma Ying-jeou, a Harvard-trained lawyer, former mayor of the capital, and son of mainlanders. He won with a clean image and a promise to speed up economic ties to China, which has become Taiwan's biggest export market.


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