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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 are capable of seriously affecting China's foreign policy, US-Chinese relations, and the entire world politics.

Taiwan sails away from China
Tsai Ing-wen's victory in the presidential elections is the second time the DPP came to power on the island. From 2000 to 2008, party representative Chen Shui-bian already held the presidency. But Chen was a weak leader: for the first time, in 2000, he won with only a relative majority (the Taiwanese elections are held in one round) thanks to a split in the ruling Kuomintang. In 2004, he defeated his opponent, the representative of the Kuomintang Lian Zhan, only with an insignificant advantage and under dubious 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 throughout his presidency. Many of his undertakings failed, relations with Beijing deteriorated, and economic growth declined. In 2008, the DPP lost power, and Chen himself, immediately after leaving the presidency, was under investigation on suspicion of corruption and was sentenced to life in prison.

Now, after eight years of Kuomintang rule, the DPP is making a triumphant return. Tsai Ing-wen not only won a solid 56,1% majority in the elections. Her party has a solid parliamentary majority - 68 of 113 seats in the Yuan Legislature.

The political struggle in the Taiwanese elections is a reflection of the conflict of two identities - common Chinese and Taiwanese - among the population of the island. The Kuomintang, the ruling party of the Republic of China that retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the war, initially had as its base aliens from the mainland: officials, soldiers, and intellectuals who fled from the communists. The early period of Taiwan's post-war history was characterized by a confrontation between the immigrant population and the "indigenous" Taiwanese. Subsequently, a gradual "Taiwanization" of the Kuomintang took place, and the acuteness of the contradictions decreased. Nevertheless, the Kuomintang is the only Taiwanese political party that maintains a connection with the general Chinese political tradition.

A longtime adversary in the civil war is now the Chinese Communists' most convenient partner. The period of Kuomintang rule in 2008-2016 marked a time of significant progress in economic ties between the island and the mainland and the holding of the first historic summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. The chances are strengthened that China can 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." Against this backdrop, tensions around Taiwan seemed to be a thing of the past, and the Taiwan problem was almost forgotten.

The DPP, which emerged in 1986, initially denied any connection with general Chinese politics, focusing on the building of a separate, proper Taiwanese political nation. Objective circumstances contributed to the DPP's success. Island from the end of the 1895th century. almost continuously was outside the sphere of political control of the mainland. From 1945 to 1949 it was ruled by the Japanese, from XNUMX it remains outside the sphere of control of the PRC. During this time, many differences have accumulated between the inhabitants of the shores of the Taiwan Strait.

During the DPP period, the construction of "Taiwanese identity" progressed significantly. Studying Taiwanese (and not common Chinese) history, supporting local traditions, and emphasizing the repressions that immigrants from the mainland carried out against the local population in the 1940s – 1970s, make it possible to speed up this process.
Political "Taiwanization" is a matter of concern for Beijing, which has repeatedly emphasized that any step towards declaring the island's formal independence from China will entail war, and in 2005 adopted a special law to combat separatism. Direct and clear military threats from the PRC are still quite effective. The electorate on the island is afraid of any change that could cause war, and this has led to an evolution in the DPP's views. Tsai Ing-wen opposes a sharp rapprochement with the mainland, but is quite clear in favor of maintaining the existing status quo.

At first glance, Beijing is still losing opportunities for progress on its "peaceful reunification" project, but may return to it in the next electoral cycle. However, the growing results of DPP are based on generational change on the island, which leads to difficult to predict results. A poll by Zhengzhi University published earlier this year showed that more than 60,6% of the island's population identified themselves as "Taiwanese" (in 1992, when such polls began to be conducted, there were only 17,6%). Only 3,5% identified themselves as "Chinese," and 32,5% said they combine Chinese and Taiwanese identities.

Changes in identity issues are already threatening PRC politics, which is based on the use of economic leverage and building special relationships with a few key figures in politics and business, while weak relations with civil society. In 2014, members of the youth Sunflower Movement seized the parliament building and thwarted the ratification of an important agreement on trade in services between the shores 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, took third place.

These changes are forcing a fresh look at the prospects of the current Chinese strategy towards Taiwan. It does not work, because the lack of soft power cannot be compensated for by any economic impact. Many of these problems are familiar to us from the example of Russian policy in the CIS. Today, China may still have reserves for improving strategies for influencing Taiwanese politics.

But quite likely new problems with the strengthening of Chinese influence on the island may lead to a complete revision of the line of behavior of the PRC and a return to the strategy of hard pressure on the island, modeled on the end 1990-x - start 2000-x using political, economic and even military leverage. In this case, Taiwan will again become one of the most important hot spots in Asia along with the South China Sea, and the US-China relations will face new serious challenges. At the same time, the actions of the players will be rather strictly dictated by their ideology and political commitments. Any compromise on the territorial integrity and status of Taiwan is suicidal for the PRC leadership, and the United States, not wanting to aggravate the Taiwan problem, will not be able to abandon its old ally and "young democracy" to the mercy of fate.

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