China Pushing for Ma in Taiwan
KMT Cites Cross-strait Ties, DPP Blasts Economy

With the Taiwan elections approaching, Beijing is hoping to pull strings for its favored candidate.

Tags: Taiwan China
Amiel Ungar ,

Ma Ying-Jeou
Ma Ying-Jeou

Taiwan is set to go to the polls on January 14.

As Election Day approaches, the elephant in the room is stirring. China has a definite rooting interest in the success of incumbent Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) party. The KMT, like China, adheres to the One China principle and rejects the formula of two Chinas that would establish Taiwan as an independent state rather than one that will eventually be unified with China. Ma has also signed a number of agreements with the People's Republic of China that Beijing hopes will draw Taiwan closer to reunification.

As the race is close, Yang Yi, the spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, warns that a return of the rival Democratic Progressive party (DPP) would be a disaster that would "threaten the peaceful development of cross-strait ties."

President Ma is playing up his improved ties with the mainland while denying that he was knuckling under to Beijing's demands for unification. He pointed to the benefits of his policy in terms of increased tourism (mainly from the mainland), greater acceptance of Taiwan in international fora and even the US decision to lift visa requirements on visitors from Taiwan.

He has promised to institutionalize the "no use of force" principle with China, so China would not seek to impose unification by force, sparing Taiwan the necessity of engaging in a costly and ultimately futile arms race.

The DPP for its part is soft-pedaling its support for independence and claims that it too sought to maintain friendly relations with China, but would seek to balance that relationship by cementing ties with other Asian countries.

The DPP is campaigning on the economy and portraying itself as the party that can get the best return on investments. They note that Taiwan's national debt increased by $429 billion during Ma's term in office.  The DPP has zeroed into a number of big-budget failures that have produced no return and contrasted this with the success of projects promoted on a more moderate budget during the DPP's administration from 2000-2008.

The DPP also took aim at Ma's advertising campaign, which lauded his qualities. “The DPP does not encourage the deification of any politician, which you can only find in a country like North Korea,”

Linking Ma with North Korea and its tyrannical regime could be a politically safe way of implying that Ma is too friendly to North Korea's main allies in Beijing.