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Sunday, 19 March, 2000, 07:19 GMT
Milestone in China-Taiwan ties
Chinese newspapers have underlined the threat of force
Chinese newspapers underline the threat of force
By Francis Markus in Taiwan

Chen Shui-bian's election as president of Taiwan was a critical new marker in the island's tense relations with Beijing.

His victory was a milestone in Taiwan's political history, dominated by the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), which moved its government to the island in 1949 after Chiang Kai-shek's defeat in the Chinese civil war.

Before the election in March last year, Chinese leaders, including Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, underlined Beijing's military threat to Taiwan should it drift further from reunification.
Mr Chen
Mr Chen: Keen for talks with Beijing
They made clear they would regard a victory by Mr Chen as a move towards Taiwan independence with potentially serious consequences.

Mr Chen gradually moderated his policies towards China and said explicitly he would not declare independence if elected and would be prepared to discuss any issue with Beijing.

Former President Lee Teng-hui's assertions of sovereignty stirred Chinese anger at Taiwan's steady drift away from its orbit, even though the KMT retains a commitment to eventual reunification in the long term.

'One China'

Once the results were in, China said it would adopt a wait-and-see attitude towards the new government.

But with Mr Chen in office, Beijing is likely to maintain intense pressure on Chen Shui-bian to further distance himself from his Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) aspirations for independence and to accept the principle of "One China".
Lien Chan
China is said to have favoured the KMT's Lien Chan
The victory of Chen Shui-bian ended more than five decades of rule by the Nationalist Party, the KMT and marked a turning point in Taiwan's political development.

For both the DPP and Mr Chen, a feisty 49-year-old former dissident lawyer, victory over a KMT whose votes were split between two candidates, was a crowning success after more than two decades of activism and political struggle.

From the status of an outlawed opposition, known as dang wai or "outside the party", their pressure gradually forced the KMT to open up the political arena.

DPP gains strength

As democracy took hold on the island after the abolition of martial law in 1987, the party became a significant force in the legislature.

The DPP gradually increased its role in local government, with several major cities headed by DPP mayors.
The election race was very close
Mr Chen himself was the first opposition figure to serve as mayor of the capital for four years.

An important factor in Mr Chen's victory was his vigorous campaign to highlight the issue of money politics, which he said pervaded the KMT's rule.

His campaign was powerfully boosted by the support of Lee Yuan-tseh, Nobel laureate and the island's leading academic.

A survey by a magazine shortly before the election reported that money politics was the social evil of most concern to Taiwanese people.

KMT humiliation

Mr Chen's KMT rival, the current vice-president, Lien Chan, was beaten into a humiliating third place despite his efforts to assure voters that the party was trying to clean up its image by measures such as putting its vast business empire under the management of trusts.

A close second to Chen Shui-bian was the former KMT senior official, James Soong, who was expelled from the party after deciding to stand against Mr Lien.

Mr Soong fought a strong campaign emphasising his ability to carry out his policy pledges during a four-year term as Taiwan's provincial governor.

His powerful showing came despite a financial scandal in which the KMT sued him for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars of party funds.

See also:

19 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
17 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
17 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
15 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
15 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
06 Mar 00 | Taiwan Election
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