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Monday, December 12, 2005

The China Post

The China PostTaiwan parties seen as maintaining China policies despite election shakeup(updated 02:58 p.m.)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP)

Taiwan's two leading political parties are unlikely to change their long-standing policies on the crucial issue of China, analysts say, despite the dramatic results of last week's municipal elections.

In a stinging rebuke to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, the opposition Nationalists won 14 of the 23 mayoral and county executives, while Nationalist allies won three more.

Trying to put the best face on things, the DPP ascribed their failure to popular resentment over a number of corruption scandals in which party officials have been implicated.

But in the final days of the campaign, President Chen Shui-bian repeatedly raised the specter of the Nationalists' preference for eventual unification with the mainland, hoping that the DPP's tried and true bogeyman would rally party faithful.

The Nationalists have consistently supported the unification line since losing the presidency to the DPP in 2000, while the DPP has long favored strengthening the island's status as a self-governing entity, culturally and historically distinct from China.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Since then Beijing has been using a blend of threats and diplomacy to try to bring the island back into its fold, including hosting then Nationalist leader Lien Chan during a groundbreaking visit to the mainland earlier this year.

Andrew Yang, a senior analyst at the Chinese Center for Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, said that despite the big boost the elections gave the Nationalists and the pain they brought the DPP, neither is likely to alter their China policies substantially.

"I don't think either of them will shift their positions very much," he said. "Even (Nationalist leader) Ma (Ying-jeou) insists that Beijing recognize the existence of Taiwan's political reality in order to break the ice."

Yang said that one avenue now open to Ma is pushing for a gradual expansion of cross-strait trade and transportation ties, including the regularization of direct charter flights, the initiation of direct cargo flights, the extension of Taiwan fruit types authorized for export to Chinese markets, and the lowering of barriers on Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

On the Nationalists' long-standing opposition to a US$16 billion (€13.7 billion) package of American weapons, Yang said there was now little impetus for Ma to change course, citing an absence of U.S. pressure on Taiwanese leaders to move forward on the deal.

The DPP say the weapons are necessary for Taiwan to defend itself against a continuing Chinese military buildup, but the Nationalists have been using their narrow majority in Taiwan's Legislature to block them from consideration, arguing that their purchase would plunge the island into an arms race with Beijing it can ill afford.

Emile Sheng, a political scientist at Taipei's Soochow University, agrees with Yang that the election results will not lead to a material shift in either the DPP or Nationalist policies, but says the extent of the DPP defeat could now force Chen to oppose the kind of trade and transportation initiatives Ma supports.

Complicating the issue, he said, is a growing DPP realization that support of the trade and transportation measures may be necessary to win over the allegiance of crucial middle of the road voters.

"Before the election Chen and the DPP were opening up to the idea of charter flights and Chinese tourists," he said. "But if they do that now they will face resistance from (their core supporters). So after the election the DPP leadership is really in a very difficult situation."

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