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The Taiwan Issue Shows Signs of Re-Igniting

July 3, 2014 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

One bright spot in an increasingly tense security environment in East Asia has been the relative calm in the Taiwan Strait. There are indications, though, that the recent period of quiescence may be coming to an end. If that occurs, the already worrisome situation in the region could become markedly worse.

Just a few years ago, the Taiwan issue was at the forefront of worries about a possible outbreak of conflict in East Asia. Under the leadership of Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) during the period from 2000 to 2008, Taiwan pursued measures to increase its de facto independence from the mainland and lay the foundation for a more formal separation. Beijing reacted badly to Taipei’s behavior, leading to a series of crises that alarmed the United States, Taiwan’s protector.

The Taiwan issue is poised to return to greater prominence, and given the assortment of nasty spats that already exist in the region, that is not good news.”

The return of the more moderate Kuomintang Party (KMT) to power with the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Chen’s successor in 2008 served to calm the situation. Even many Taiwanese who were strongly opposed to any notion of reunification with the mainland had become worried about Chen’s strident, confrontational approach. By contrast, Ma steadily increased Taiwan’s economic links with the mainland, and the atmosphere of extreme tensions dissipated. Mainland tourists began coming to the island in substantial numbers, and in early 2014, the first official bilateral meeting took place between Chinese and KMT officials since the 1949 communist revolution on the mainland.

Over the past year, though, there has been growing push back from domestic constituencies in response to Ma’s conciliatory approach toward Beijing. Whereas key opinion sectors once feared that Chen’s confrontational strategy was excessively risky, the worry now seems to be that Ma’s strategy may be too soft—that he is allowing Taiwan to be drawn inexorably into Beijing’s orbit.  Most Taiwanese do not want tense, hostile relations with the mainland, but neither do they wish to see Taiwan’s ability to run its own affairs undermined.

Angry demonstrations erupted in March 2014 in response to a new trade deal between Taipei and Beijing, which opponents argued would give China far too much influence over Taiwan’s economy. The disorders culminated with an occupation of Taiwan’s legislature that lasted nearly a week. That occupation was accompanied by massive …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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