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March 22, 2004

Chinese and US Bluffs


by Sascha Matuszak

Taiwan had a chance to prove to the world, and most of all to China, that a free democratic election is a just and righteous method for choosing leaders.

That chance was blown, and now with angry opposition protests raging across the island screaming "invalid" and "staged," the stage is set for Beijing’s intervention to restore stability and firm Motherland control over the errant son.

Taiwan’s election was marred by bitter mudslinging through last year and into the months preceding the vote, rebukes from Beijing, the US and EU over the inclusion of the "peace referendum," constant threats from the Mainland that war was imminent, the inept shooting of President Chen Shui Bian and his Vice President Annette Lu, more than 300,000 invalid ballots and now two fiercely loyal camps face each other in the streets.

Beijing, for now, is "closely following the developments."

But what better time than now for Beijing to end this matter once and for all?

What Would Have to Happen for Beijing NOT Step in

Unlike the US after Florida, the opposition KMT would have to make Taiwan stand still and deal with this problem.

While Taiwan stands still, the opposition must then turn Chen into a pariah as he scrambles to 1) Make Taiwan run again 2) Show everybody his wound 3) Demonstrate that after the failure if his referendum, his ridiculously thin margin of victory and the host of invalid ballots (nice tactic!), he is still the rightful leader of Taiwan.

Chen would have to fail and his government fall, allowing the KMT to slip into leadership, to the relief of the US, Beijing, the EU and everybody else out there who was getting sick of Chen stirring up trouble in the midst of the War on Terror.

This would be a nice development for world stability, if not for the aspirations of those independent-minded Taiwanese who loathe a return to KMT, and eventually Beijing, rule.

The Invalid Ballot

Although this seems like a possible conclusion to the Taiwan problem at hand, President Chen Shui Bian and his followers are just as desperate to avoid defeat as Beijing is to see them defeated. Defeat in Taiwan for either the DPP or the KMT means to be wiped from existence.

And herein lies the true meaning of the Invalid Ballot – 300,000 people in Taiwan would rather see both co-exist in peace and prosperity, with justice and fair-minded leadership for all – or see both of the parties wiped from the face of the planet. (Americans take note.)

The Invalid Swing Vote demands quick reconciliation and a thorough anti-corruption crusade – which may take out KMT leader Lien Chan and his running-mate James Soong, both implicated in greed.

A wise Chen will be the first to extend the olive branch, placating the Invalids, restoring peace and sweeping the rug out from his scandal embroiled opponents.

What will the KMT do in this situation? To refuse the olive branch invites further instability and unrest, but insures their political survival for the time being. To accept means dormancy until the next election.

Is now the time for the Taiwan question to be answered? If so, the KMT and DPP will duke it out until someone stops them.

Fear Not the US

Mainlanders are convinced that the US will not go to war with China over Taiwan. A few arguments revolve around emotional, nationalistic "We are much stronger than Iraq" and "Remember North Korea?" statements, but even a cursory look at the situation would suggest that the US does not have the means or the will to fight in the Taiwan Straits in 2004, if it comes to that.

  1. The US and China enjoy a relatively healthy economic relationship, that is growing more and more interdependent as the days go on, which is a strong deterrent to war – much stronger than any similarity in political systems could be.
  2. The US is busy in other parts of the world right now, militarily and diplomatically.
  3. There is another election this year.

And the rather salient fact that war between China and the US at this current point in history would be regarded by all and sundry as the beginning of WWIV and perhaps the very end of the world as we know it, with Afghans, Iraqis, Sudanese, Serbs, Arabs of all shape and size, Palestinians and every other enemy of the current Superpower rising up and … well you get the picture.

So if Beijing were to cruise across the Straits and restore order, the US would scream and holler, lose a serious chunk of face and then start doing the diplomatic hustle.

But then again, we are still under the Bush Administration. So anything is possible.

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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