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Taiwan sails away from China

Political scientist Vasiliy Kashin analyzes the arrival of the opposition to power in Taiwan, which leads to hard-to-predict results

The victory of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan on January 16 went almost unnoticed in Russia. The results of these elections can seriously affect China’s foreign policy, US-China relations and the whole world policy.

Taiwan sails away from China
The victory of Tsai Inven in the presidential election is already the second arrival of the DPP to power on the island. From 2000 to 2008, the representative of the party Chen Shui-bian has already occupied the presidential seat. But Chen was a weak leader: for the first time, in 2000, he won only by a relative majority (the Taiwan elections are held in one round) thanks to a split in the ruling Kuomintang. In 2004, he defeated his opponent, the Kuomintang representative Lien Zhang, with only an insignificant advantage and in doubtful circumstances. (On the last day of the election campaign, an unsuccessful attempt was made on Chen, which was never investigated).

In addition, Chen did not rely on a parliamentary majority during his entire presidency. Many of his undertakings failed, relations with Beijing deteriorated, and economic growth slowed. In 2008, DPP lost power, and Chen himself immediately after leaving the presidency was under investigation for alleged corruption and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Now, after eight years of the Kuomintang reign, the DPP is returning in triumph. Cai Inven not only won a solid majority in the 56,1% election. Her party has a strong parliamentary majority - 68 of 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan.

The political struggle in the Taiwan elections is a reflection of the conflict of two identities - the Chinese and Taiwanese - among the island's population. The Kuomintang-the ruling party of the Republic of China, which retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the lost war-initially had as its base aliens from the mainland: officials, soldiers, and intellectuals who fled from communism. For the early period of postwar history of Taiwan was characterized by a confrontation of the newcomers and "indigenous" Taiwanese. Subsequently, the Kuomintang gradually "mystified", and the severity of the contradictions decreased. Nevertheless, the KMT is the only Taiwanese political party that remains connected with the common Chinese political tradition.

A longtime opponent in the civil war is now the most convenient partner for the Chinese Communists. The period of the Kuomintang in 2008-2016 It was a time of significant progress in the economic ties between the island and the mainland and the holding of the first historical summit meeting between the PRC Chairman Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. The chances for China to gradually achieve maximum economic integration with Taiwan and, in the long term, create conditions for "peaceful reunification" based on the principle of "one country - two systems" have strengthened. Against this background, the tension around Taiwan seemed to be a thing of the past, and the Taiwanese problem was almost forgotten.

The DPP, which emerged in 1986, initially denied any connection with general Chinese policy, emphasizing the construction of a separate, actually Taiwanese political nation. The success of the DPP contributed to the objective circumstances. The island from the end of the XIX century. almost continuously was outside the scope of political control of the mainland. From 1895 to 1945, it was ruled by the Japanese, from 1949, it remains outside the scope of control of the PRC. During this time, many differences have accumulated among residents of the Straits of the Taiwan Strait.

During the period of the DPP, the construction of the “Taiwan Identity” progressed significantly. Studying Taiwanese (and not all-Chinese) history, supporting local traditions, focusing on repressions that people from the mainland carried out in relation to the local population in 1940 – 1970-ies make it possible to accelerate this process.
Political "Taiwanization" is a matter of Beijing's concern, which has repeatedly stressed that any step towards declaring the island's formal independence from China will lead to war, and at 2005 adopted a special law against separatism. Direct and clear military threats from the PRC side are still quite effective. The electorate on the island is afraid of any changes that could cause a war, and this led to an evolution in the views of the DPP. Cai Inven opposes a sharp rapprochement with the mainland, but clearly expresses his support for maintaining the existing status quo.

At first glance, Beijing is losing the opportunities for the progress of its “peaceful reunification” project, but may return to it in the next electoral cycle. However, the growing results of the DPP are based on a change of generations on the island, which leads to hardly predictable results. A survey published at the beginning of the year by the Zhengzhi University showed that more than 60,6% of the island’s population identified themselves as “Taiwanese” (in 1992, when similar surveys began to be conducted, there were only 17,6%). Only 3,5% identified themselves as "Chinese", and 32,5% stated that they combine Chinese and Taiwanese identities.

Changes in identity issues already pose a threat to PRC policy, which is based on the use of economic levers and building special relations with a few key figures in politics and business with weak relations with civil society. In 2014, members of the youth Sunflower Movement, seizing the parliament building, thwarted the ratification of an important service trade agreement between the banks of the Taiwan Strait. From their point of view, the agreement led to excessive rapprochement with the mainland. In the 2016 elections, the New Force party, organized by former leaders of the movement, ranked third.

These changes force us to take a fresh look at the prospects of the current Chinese strategy towards Taiwan. It does not work, because the lack of "soft power" can not be compensated by any economic influence. Many of these problems are familiar to us on the example of Russian policy in the CIS. Today, China may still have reserves to improve strategies for influencing Taiwan's policies.

But quite likely new problems with the strengthening of Chinese influence on the island can lead to a complete revision of the PRC's line of conduct and return to a strategy of hard pressure on the island after the model of the end 1990-x - start 2000-x With the use of political, economic and even military levers. In this case, Taiwan will once again become one of the most important hot spots in Asia along with the South China Sea, and US-China relations will meet with new serious challenges. In this case, the actions of players will be quite rigidly dictated by their ideology and political commitments. Any compromises regarding the territorial integrity and status of Taiwan are self-destructive for the leadership of the PRC, and the US, unwilling to exacerbate the Taiwan problem, will not be able to abandon the old ally and the "young democracy" to the mercy of fate.

Material published in the newspaper "Vedomosti" 21 January 2016 g
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