China glowers as Taiwan goes to the polls

STEPHEN VINES

Hong Kong

China's leaders must be facing increasing frustration in their attempts to influence today's legislative elections in Taiwan, the immensely wealthy offshore island which they regard as a renegade province.

First, they have no experience of democratic elections. Secondly, they are supposed to be indifferent to their outcome in Taiwan. Thirdly, they desperately want the Taiwanese voters to give the thumbs down to President Lee Teng-hui and others who are seen as encouraging the further separation of Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

This probably explains why Shen Guofang, China's foreign ministry spokesman, was so evasive when questioned about whether the Chinese government was trying to influence the election by holding a series of threatening military exercises off Taiwan's coast.

The military action is backed up by Cultural Revolution-style rhetoric. On Tuesday the Peking-controlled Wen Wei Po newspaper in Hong Kong wrote in glowing terms of how, "for the sake of unification of the motherland, the Fujian (the province facing Taiwan) people will once again not grudge having to make sacrifices".

It may be no more than sabre-rattling. But the Hong Kong and Taiwan press are full stories of how the Chinese government has changed the criteria for dealing with Taiwan by military means. A widely leaked Chinese government document, allegedly from a Taiwan policy committee headed by President Jiang Zemin, states that the previous criteria for deciding on the need for an invasion should Taiwan declare independence is too narrow.

According to the document it is necessary to consider military means to counter "covert independence", which means President Lee's policy of perpetuating the division of the motherland, and deliberate procrastination in reunification talks. In these circumstances China would be justified in launching a small-scale military invasion to combat a small scale-independence movement.

The effect of all this military posturing in Taiwan has oscillated from extreme concern to indifference. The local stock market is more than ever like a roller-coaster as mood-swings are reflected in the price of shares.

Yesterday, President Lee hit back at China's threats, insisting: "The ballot is stronger than the bullet." He told a group of visiting US former senators and administration officials: "The military exercises ... are negative, and the actions of Communist China are unwise."

A government official dealing with China relations said that he was aware of growing pressure from the Chinese military for greater leeway in taking action against Taiwan, and was taking it seriously.

Lee Kuo-hsiung, a politics professor at the National Chengchih University, said that although there was "an increased sense of risk", he believed that there were "weak reasons for military action" and he reckoned that China would worry about the international reaction.

China's ham-fisted election strategy is to weaken both the outright pro- independence forces in Taiwan and the majority faction in the ruling Kuomintang Party, which it sees as backing President Lee's pro-independence line. China seems to be unaware that the Kuomintang is quite capable of shooting itself in the foot without its assistance. Indeed, the threats from Peking may well have the effect of rallying support for a party which is deeply divided and surrounded by the pungent aroma of corruption.

The Kuomintang is now more openly split than at any time since Chiang Kai-shek brought his defeated forces to Taiwan in 1949.

Two leading members, the former prime minister, Hau Pei-tsun, and Lin Yang-kang, are declared runners in the March presidential election, the first in Taiwan's history.

Other senior Kuomintang officials have also entered the race against President Lee, including an 82-year-old former senior adviser to the President, Henry Kao.

Meanwhile, the breakaway New Party, with an outspoken programme of reunification with the mainland, is making some headway among younger middle-class Kuomintang supporters and old-guard military stalwarts.

The splits in the ruling party will probably do little to prevent President Lee from being re-elected but they pose serious problems for the Kuomintang in today's poll. The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party is rubbing its hands as the ruling party falls apart, and stands to make gains from a split in the conservative vote.

It is even possible that the Kuomintang will lose its over-all majority in the legislature.

This would move Taiwan into uncharted waters, as the legislative and executive wings of government have never before been controlled by different parties.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Teleradiology s...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator - Out of Hours

£19000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Telera...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Content Marketing Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing, Google certi...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn