You wouldn’t know the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) just won the presidential election in Taiwan, ending eight years of a pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) government, if you read Chinese newspapers.
The day after the election, none of the newspapers in Nanjing* carried the biggest news of the day on their front pages. Even looking inside the papers, no news of the election was to be found. Now three days after the event, still nothing. The front page of Modern Express, a newspaper run by Xinhua, the national state-run news agency, includes mini-headlines about how Modern Express‘s social media account is #1 in the province and how “China’s top fatty” is coming to Nanjing to lose weight. The lead story is about a cold front soon to hit eastern China? A metaphor?
(*supposedly still the capital of the Republic of China, according to the KMT’s education bureau!!!)
Actually, the impact of a DPP presidency is hard to predict. Tsai Ing-wen, the nation’s first female president, is practical and espouses the goal of maintaining peace. The DPP, while supporting an ideal of independence, isn’t trying to start a war. They are resigned to the fact that, based on foreign policy circumstances, they have a small box within which to operate. Last time there was a DPP presidency, from 2000-08, the administration spent much effort trying to change the name of things–for example changing “Republic of China” to “Republic of China (Taiwan)” and changing the name of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. (KMT President Ma Ying-jeou changed the name back after he was elected in 2008.)
National Taiwan University associate professor of Political Science Huang Min-hua said in an interview with B+D that the DPP still wants the door open for workable relations with China. With regards to President Ma’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, “Ma is, in a way, doing a job for the DPP, to open up the door with this meeting with the CCP president. DPP still wants the door open. But they don’t want the frame imposed on this kind of meeting.” (Read full interview.)
Still, there is no doubt that Chinese-Taiwanese relations will be worse than during Ma’s presidency. After all, the KMT is generally more pro-Chinese, due to their history having fled from China in 1949 and accepting a Chinese government’s (their’s, in their ideal view) claim to an expansive “China”. Ma in particular was more hospitable to cross-straits relations than even some other KMT leaders, which may have hurt the party. The DPP, no matter how “practical” they are, ideally wants to maintain Taiwan’s unique identity and status.
This wasn’t even a close election. Tsai destroyed the KMT’s sacrificial lamb Eric Chu Li-luan (who replaced their original candidate who was viewed as too pro-China even for the KMT) 56.1% to 31.0%** (with former KMT bigwig James Soong of the People’s First Party getting 11% of the vote***).
A record number of Taiwanese now identify themselves only as “Taiwanese” and a record low identify themselves as “Chinese.” The longer Taiwan exists in a state of defacto independence, the further disconnected the children of those who fled the mainland become from their family’s history, the bigger the gap will become. <a href=”http://Read my interview with Huang Min-hua, as he spoke in detail about how Taiwanese identity is becoming crystallized among the young.
***James Soong served as governor of Taiwan Province from 1994-98 as a member of the KMT party and as the director of the Government Information Office during a KMT administration. In 2000, James Soong placed second as an independent, losing to the DPP’s first president Chen Shui-bian by a margin of 2.5% points, while the KMT candidate got 23.1% of the vote. This time the DPP won an outright majority, so his impact didn’t turn the election either way.