Taiwan, China Relations Set To ProgressMa Ying-jeou's victory in Taiwan's presidential elections gave him a renewed mandate to press ahead with an economic opening to China, but analysts said the vote underlined deep suspicions among voters toward their giant neighbor, which will complicate Ma's efforts to establish a lasting rapprochement with the island's longtime foe during his second term.
Ma, the leader of the China-friendly Kuomintang, took a 51.6% share of the vote compared to 45.6% for his main challenger, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Ms. Tsai, after conceding the election, told reporters that she would step down as chairwoman of the DPP and take responsibility for the loss.
Ma's support levels were significantly lower than in 2008, when he received 58.45% of the vote. That sets up a difficult second term in which analysts say Ma will be constrained in how much he can offer China as he seeks to expand economic ties. He will also face a tough global economic climate that may make it difficult for him to address a rising wealth gap and stagnant wages, issues that dented his support in this election.
At just above 74%, voter turnout was the lowest in the history of Taiwan's five democratic presidential elections. Roughly 200,000 Taiwanese businessmen are estimated to have flown back to the island from China, representing about 1.5% of the more than 13 million people who voted in the election.
(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com).
Business leaders generally welcomed the election result. The chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (2317.TW), Terry Gou, on Sunday said Ma's re-election was 'encouraging' for business, and vowed to increase investments in China and Taiwan with uncertainties over the election removed.
The pro-DPP Liberty Times said that 'Ma's toughest battle will be how to stand up against China in future cross-strait talks as now it is 'pay back time' after Beijing successfully helped Ma to solidify his support base in two elections.'
It added that Ma would now be faced with the task of devising a long-term economic plan to quell domestic economic worries, which analysts say could run into increased opposition from a legislature, that while still in the control of the KMT, is more diverse and divided than during his first term.
Tense relations between Taipei and Beijing have eased since Ma became president in 2008. In June 2010, the two sides signed a landmark trade agreement to gradually lift tariffs on goods and restrictions on investment. Ma has also presided over agreements that have allowed Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan and opened up direct cross-Strait flights.
Reactions from Beijing and Washington to Ma's victory signaled their relief. Ma's policies have helped defuse a key regional flash point between the countries and have justified Chinese President Hu Jintao's decision to take a more conciliatory approach to Taiwan relations.
In a lengthy note, the White House said 'cross-strait peace, stability, and improved relations in an environment free from intimidation are of profound importance to the United States. We hope the impressive efforts that both sides have undertaken in recent years to build cross-strait ties continue.'
The Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council said: 'We are willing to join hands with Taiwan's all walks of life on the basis of continuing to oppose the 'Taiwan independence' and sticking to the '1992 Consensus,' to break new ground for the peaceful development of the cross-strait relations and make common efforts for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.'
But analysts argue that future moves to bring Taiwan and China closer will be increasingly difficult.
'Ma got an affirmation of his policies having run on his record, but I think that a significant element of the population is still skeptical of Kuomintang policies and skeptical about China,' said Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.
Bush said many of the obvious next steps toward economic integration touch on sensitive domestic vested interests within both China and Taiwan. On the Chinese side, state-owned enterprises are likely to oppose tariff reductions on Taiwan imports and China's financial firms don't want to compete with Taiwan's banks, he said.
Meanwhile, negotiations on a key investment-protection deal for Taiwan enterprises in China has run into difficulties. Taiwan has been unable to get what it views as necessary protection for Taiwan individuals who end up in disagreements with the Chinese government. Steps to formally bring the two sides closer politically are even more sensitive.
'Now we are entering the difficult stage in which many of the economic issues will touch upon the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty,' said Yen Chen-shen, a research fellow at National Chengchi University.
With little known about Xi Jinping, widely expected to take over as China's top leader this year, it remains to be seen how far China will push Ma on sensitive sovereignty issues and political talks.
Shelley Rigger, a professor of political science at Davidson College, said she believed that Beijing would likely be happy to have the Taiwan question on the back burner as it goes through the highly sensitive political succession period and as Xi consolidates his power.
'I'm not sure [China] has a real good consensus among the leadership about exactly where they want to go. Obviously they have their ultimate destination in mind, but they understand unification is way off. And they really need to figure out what they're asking for in concrete terms,' she said.
Joseph Wu, Taiwan's former chief representative to the U.S., said there is growing frustration in China from some leaders that China hasn't received substantive steps from Taiwan to move toward political talks despite significant concessions in trade deals.
That makes it more likely that Chinese leaders will attempt to extract political concessions, including formal talks with Ma, according to Wu.
Wang Yeh-li, chairman of the political-science department at National Taiwan University, disagreed, arguing that Ma is limited in the steps he can take, as anything that is perceived as moving too close to China would do great damage to the KMT's support base for future elections.
'Ma's sliding popularity is a strong message to Beijing that even though Ma still represents the majority sentiment of Taiwan, there are many who are very suspicious of his leadership. This means Ma will likely take a tougher stance on Taiwan's sovereignty in future talks with Beijing,' he said.
In Washington, Ma's policies have been generally viewed as positive for U.S. interests, as better economic ties have ensured a more stable cross-strait relationship and allowed U.S.-China ties to focus on other issues such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and North Korea.
Brookings's Bush said he believed 'the U.S. has nothing to worry about,' as long as Ma stays within the limits of his mandate.
But he added, 'The People's Republic of China buildup is continuing and we have to decide what we will do about it to help Taiwan.'
Because of the recent opening up of ties between the two sides, and the increasing power of microblog sites like Sina Corp.'s (SINA) Weibo, Taiwan's election was also given unprecedented attention by Chinese across the strait.
Weibo featured an official vote counter as ballots were tallied, and commenters expressed frank opinions for and against the candidates, and also Taiwan's democratic system in general.
Wang Gongquan, a CDH Investment partner, wrote, 'In the world of freedom and democracy, politics is more beautiful, at least much better than in the world of authoritarian hypocrisy. Both Ma and Cai's manners, minds and style are admirable.'
馬 英九的支持率大大低於2008年﹐當時他的得票率為58.45%。這就使他的連任面臨艱難的挑戰。分析人士說﹐連任期間﹐馬英九在尋求擴大經濟聯繫之際向 大陸提供的條件將受到制約。他還將面臨艱難的全球經濟環境﹐這可能使他難以應對不斷擴大的貧富差距和停滯的工資。這兩個問題對他在此次總統大舉中的支持率 造成了打擊。
商 業領袖普遍對選舉結果表示歡迎。鴻海精密工業股份有限公司(Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.)董事長郭台銘週日說﹐馬英九的連任對企業來說是令人鼓舞的消息﹐他還鄭重承諾﹐鑒於圍繞台灣大選的不確定因素已經消除﹐他將擴大在大陸和台灣的投 資。
Patrick Lin/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
布魯金斯學會(Brookings Institution)東北亞政策研究中心主任卜睿哲(Richard Bush)說﹐馬英九任期內的政策獲得了肯定﹐但我認為﹐有很多台灣民眾仍對國民黨的政策表示質疑﹐對大陸表示質疑。
台灣國立政治大學(National Chengchi University)研究員嚴震生說﹐現在我們即將進入一個困難的階段﹐在這個階段﹐很多經濟問題都會與台灣的主權扯上關係。
美國戴維森學院(Davidson College)政治學教授任雪麗(Shelley Rigger)說﹐她認為北京此時正處於高度敏感的政治領導人接班過程中﹐習近平也在鞏固自己的權力﹐這個時候北京可能會樂於把台灣問題暫時擱置一旁。
國立台灣大學(National Taiwan University)政治學系主任王業立不同意這個看法﹐他堅持認為馬英九所能採取的措施相當有限﹐因為任何被看作是太靠近大陸的舉動都會對支持國民黨未來競選的選民基礎造成很大破壞。