Chinese Envious of Taiwan's Democracy

Netizens in China seek greater debate after watching polls in self-governing Taiwan.
2012-01-16
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Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou's supporters gather in front of their Kuomintang party's campaign headquarters in Taipei, Jan. 14, 2012.
AFP

Many Chinese netizens are openly calling for active public participation in politics in the mainland as they applaud the re-election of Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou.

Ma, who belongs to the Kuomintang (KMT) party and is a pioneer of a series of cross-straits trade and travel agreements with rival Beijing, beat China-skeptic challenger Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in hotly contested weekend polls.
 
The election was witnessed for the first time by mainland Chinese tourists, as well as widely followed on China's microblogging services.

A news posting announcing Ma's win from the cutting-edge Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis News was retweeted more than 10,000 times on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, garnering more than 2,000 comments.

Many netizens appeared envious of the level of democracy enjoyed by their "Taiwan compatriots."

"So the people of Taiwan are happy," wrote user @denglaixiaotudetuma. "What about the people on the mainland, then?"

User @nantianyoulong agreed, adding: "We are human too. The people of China should also have the right to be happy."

"It reminds me of a saying when I was a child, that two-thirds of the world's population live in great suffering," wrote @feichangdao11171314. "There is a second half to that saying; that two-thirds of the world's people live in mainland China."

While many netizens welcomed Ma's victory as being more likely to lead to eventual reunification, others were impressed by Tsai's reaction to the poll result.

Tsai, who had been vying to become the island's first female president, announced her resignation after the defeat.
 
"We apologize deeply for disappointing everybody, and we will undergo a deep reflection and inquiry," she said.

"As for the responsibility of losing, I take that fully upon myself, and hereby announce my resignation as chairwoman of the DPP."

'Best speeches'

On Sina Weibo, user @shifuweibodaren said Tsai's speech was one of the best speeches of the entire election. "This shows the true spirit of leadership, and a huge amount of spiritual strength," the user wrote.

Ma, who cut his teeth as the head of the then KMT cabinet's Mainland Affairs Council in the 1990s, promised that his presidency would see further rapprochement with Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province with which it will "reunify" by force if the island ever declares formal independence.

"In the next four years, relations across the Taiwan Strait will be even more harmonious and mutually trusting, with less likelihood of clashes," Ma said.

"I will ensure that Taiwan has a lasting peaceful and stable environment," he said, using two of Beijing's favorite political buzzwords: stability and harmony.

Taiwan has been governed separately from China since Chiang Kai-shek's KMT forces fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.

Official mainland Chinese media welcomed Ma's victory, saying it vindicated the signing of a 1992 cross-straits consensus on the island's future.

"Intending to separate Taiwan from China is totally unrealistic at present," the Global Times newspaper, which has links to the ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial on Monday.

"Parties within Taiwan have become unable to mobilize voters by advocating 'Taiwan independence,' and it is difficult for international forces to use this slogan to gain support."

But it called for a cautious policy of peaceful rapprochement, rather than putting Taiwan under "undue" pressure to reunify with its larger neighbor.

"The mainland should keep the momentum rather than seeking to dominate cross-Straits politics," the paper said.

Resounding answer

An analysis in the Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, said the Taiwan electorate had delivered a resounding answer to the question of greater independence or closer ties with China, via the ballot box.

It quoted political scholars as saying that the election result marked a profound political shift on the island, making pro-independence politics a thing of the past.

Chang Ling-chen, politics professor at Taiwan University, said Ma's re-election had paved the way for further economic cooperation between Taiwan and mainland China, as well as a possible peace treaty.

"The peace treaty can't all be negotiated in one sitting," Chang said. "I believe that during the next four years, Ma Ying-jeou should do as the mainland's Taiwan Office official Wang Yi has said, and create the conditions for a peace treaty to be concluded."

But she added that the earlier negotiations over further economic ties and trade links would be easier than the political negotiations which could come after them.

Meanwhile, retired Nanjing University professor Sun Wenguang said he believed Ma's victory was linked to his policy towards the Chinese mainland.

"He has consistently upheld the policy of no reunification, no independence and no military force, and brought great stability to cross-straits relations," Sun said. "The people of Taiwan have now given their support for further rapprochement and continued cooperation."

Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, told a symposium on Taiwan's future that China had now extended its influence into every area of life in Taiwan.

"In Taiwan right now there is nowhere that is not influenced by the mainland," Xia said. "Taiwan's media, academics, and intellectuals are already beginning to show fear of the mainland and we can already see the effects in Taiwan today."

He called on Ma's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) to recognise a potential threat inherent in closer cross-straits ties.

"They must pay attention to ensuring that trade and economic interests don't end up damaging the island's core democratic values," Xia said.

Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng and Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Zi Jing for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.