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    Greater China
     Jan 9, 2007
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Taiwan's 'superstars' to battle it out
By Jonathan Adams

TAIPEI - While Beijing may not want to see Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party continue to rule the island after 2008, the DPP emerged from last month's mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung with renewed hope that it might hold on to power in next year's presidential elections. Now the race is on to determine who will carry the party's banner as its candidate in that key vote.

Before the mayoral elections, most saw opposition Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou as a virtual shoo-in for the

presidency in 2008. He enjoys islandwide popularity for his incorruptible image and gentleman's demeanor, though his support has drooped in recent months. Meanwhile, the DPP's support levels have been tumbling as one scandal after another has rocked President Chen Shui-bian's administration.

But after holding on to the mayoralty of second-largest city Kaohsiung and doing better than expected in the Taipei mayor's race, the DPP is more confident that it will have a fighting chance in 2008. Ma has already come under fire for weak leadership on a range of issues and poor crisis management. The vote highlighted some of Ma's political vulnerabilities - in particular, his difficulty connecting with voters in the south. And the DPP now reckons it can put the more China-friendly Ma on the defensive on the highly charged issue of national identity and so dash his presidential ambitions.

"We already knew Ma's approval ratings were dropping. But after the [mayoral] elections, we have even stronger confidence that our candidate can beat Ma," said Winston Dang, director of the DPP's department of international affairs. "He's going to lose." If Dang is right, who from the DPP would replace Chen? And how would this affect cross-strait relations?

Taiwan's media call them the DPP's "four superstars": the four party heavyweights most likely to make a primary bid for the presidential candidacy, in an islandwide vote by party members now expected in June at the latest. But most observers see only two credible candidates: Premier Su Tseng-chang, who has been dubbed the "electric fireball" for his aggressive, energetic style, and Frank Hsieh, the party's losing candidate in the Taipei mayoral election. Both have broad government experience and strong credentials as former defense lawyers for pro-democracy activists. Notably, both are viewed as moderates on cross-strait relations, while the two dimmer "stars", party chairman Yu Shyi-kun and Vice President Annette Lu, take a harder pro-independence line.

On economics, both Su and Hsieh are believed to favor lifting the restriction for Taiwan-listed companies that caps mainland-bound investment at 40% of their net worth - the most divisive issue within the DPP. Su initially supported lifting the cap in a key economic conference last summer, but backed off under pressure from a small hardline pro-independence party that wants to tightly limit cross-strait economic ties. And as premier, Su has also quietly increased cross-strait charter flights, approved the transfer by Taiwanese firms of more advanced (though not cutting-edge) chip technology to mainland China, and pushed to open up the island to more tourists from the mainland.

Hsieh's stance is less clear, but politically he may be more moderate than Su. While Su pushes closer economic ties, he tends to talk tough on Taiwan's political sovereignty. By contrast, when the affable Hsieh was premier, he pushed a line of reconciliation with the KMT-led opposition and China, though with little effect. And in the past he has remarked that Taiwan is governed by a "one China" constitution - a formulation that might help soothe nerves in Beijing, which has insisted on acceptance of the "one-China principle" as a condition for political cross-strait talks.

The two men's broad goals on cross-strait relations aren't that different from Ma's: all three back the political status quo (at least in the near term) and favor warmer economic relations. But Ma is willing to be far more accommodating to Beijing to achieve those goals. For example, Ma embraces the convoluted "1992 Consensus" - an unofficial agreement to fudge the "one China" issue that allowed cross-strait talks to proceed in the early 1990s - and could start talks again.

Ma hopes the shibboleth will lead to a breakthrough such as the resumption of regular cross-strait direct flights. The official DPP line is that no real agreement was ever reached, so the "1992 Consensus" is a non-starter. Su and Hsieh can be expected to toe that line. "Saying you accepted the '1992 Consensus' would be a form of political suicide for the [DPP] nomination," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political analyst at Taipei's Academia Sinica.

Ma has also backed an interim cross-strait peace pact that any DPP president would find difficult to embrace, at least in the heat of a presidential campaign. Ma said in an interview last October that if elected president, he would try to ink a deal with the mainland by 2012 under which Taiwan would forswear formal 

Continued 1 2 

China's strange silence on Chen's troubles (Nov 17, '06)

Time to step aside, Taiwan's Chen told (Jun 7, '06)


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