Tue, Oct 28, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen Shui-bian and brinkmanship

Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties are rare phemonena in the world of political parties. More than three years after the transfer of political power, the ruling and opposition parties continue to play reversed roles. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) behaves like an opposition party in its election campaigning, going on the offensive and regularly floating controversial issues. In contrast, the pan-blue alliance, made up of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP), behaves like it is in government: loaded with heavy political baggage, and slow in reacting to political developments, public opinion and other trends.

A massive, 200,000-strong demonstration was held in Kaohsiung City on Saturday to demand referendums and a new constitution. In a speech to demonstrators that evening, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) reiterated that "the people of Taiwan need a new constitution." Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), meanwhile, has advised Taiwanese to talk not about independence but about nation-building. The Taiwanese media and public no longer see these issues as things to be feared.

Taiwan's political spectrum is changing. KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) has proposed his "new one China" platform and is attempting to maintain the status quo by claiming that this "one China" is the Republic of China. Even so, all parties involved would admit that the 2004 presidential election will be a watershed for determining the nation's future.

Chen is resorting to the brinkmanship game in his campaign strategy. Although the DPP still lags in the polls, the gap between the blue and green camps is bound to fall to under five percent in the latter stage of the campaign, given that the DPP has the advantage of incumbency and is adopting more flexible strategies to eat away at their rivals' support base.

All media polls indicate that the Chen-Lu ticket, with Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) as running mate, is gaining ground on the pan-blue ticket of Lien and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). The new support consists of people who were initially stalwart Chen supporters but who for economic reasons were considered undecided voters. Now encouraged by Chen's dictum of "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait and policy ideas on a new constitution and the holding of referendums, these voters have a strong reason to vote for Chen once more.

Chen is also adopting brinkmanship in dealing with China. If Beijing reacts too strongly to Chen's appeal for referendums and a new constitution, this will result in public anger. China will then have repeated the self-defeating interference it indulged in during Taiwan's presidential races in 1996 and 2000. Chen stands to benefit from such an outcome. If Beijing responds moderately or makes no response at all, Chen will still benefit.

The US is aware of the game being played in Taiwan, but Chen must be careful not to irritate Washington by being too provocative. But by sending officials to Washington to explain the government's position and arranging transit stops in the US as part of Chen's diplomatic tour, Taiwan has managed to stay on track in its relations with the US and China.

The brinkmanship strategy is a double-edged sword. Gripping this sword, Chen can score points quickly if he makes the right moves. But one false move could also get him into big trouble.

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