Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Significance of Ma Yingjeou's Win in Taiwan Election

Ma Yingjeou scored an overwhelming win in the just concluded election for president of Taiwan, garnering 58% of the votes cast, and handily defeated his opponent by more than 2 million votes. His win has been a subject of all sorts of interpretations by outside pundits.

Seemingly overlooked in the post-mortem analysis is his win on Kinmen Island, where he won 95% of the votes. Kinmen is the smallest of Taiwan's voting districts and easy to overlook. But surely, a plurality of 95% is noteworthy and deserves a closer examination.

Kinmen (also known as Quemoy or Jinmen) is just one mile off the coast of Xiamen. Direct ferry service to Xiamen began in 2001 and the traffic between the offshore island and its bigger neighbor has flourished, having expanded to eight daily sailing in each direction.

Xiamen is where residents of Kinmen go to buy necessities, fresh fruits and vegetables and luxury goods. Kinmen is a popular destination for tourists from the mainland. The economic linkage is obvious and palpable to people on both sides of ferry crossing.

Ma’s avalanche victory on Kinmen is a leading indicator of where his cross strait policy needs to go when he is sworn into office on May 20.

The people of Kinmen can see first-hand the benefits of closer ties to the mainland and bet on Ma to improve on this approach. The rest of the people of Taiwan will also see the economic benefit if Ma delivers on his campaign promise for closer economic ties with China.

Closer economic ties will build on the natural affinity of people of both sides and lead to closer ties with the mainland, something Ma’s opponent did not relish. Hopefully Ma will ride the rising tide of sentiments and make the necessary bold moves to reverse the past eight years of stagnation and cross strait hostility.

He has made a positive move by revisiting the prospects of welcoming pandas to Taiwan earlier offered by Beijing but rejected by his predecessor, Chen Shui Bian.

If he let irrelevant issues such as pursuit of pseudo independence, maintaining checkbook diplomacy with banana republics, buying arms from the U.S., denying Taiwan’s Chinese roots, rewriting history books, and, of course, graft and corruption interfere with implementing the people’s demand, he will rue his day and the lost opportunity.

His first 100 days will be watched intently.

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