The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) romp in last Saturday's local government elections has left Washington scratching its head over what the results will mean for cross-strait relations and for the 2008 presidential election.
Observers said it was too early to say whether the results will increase the likelihood that the KMT will wrest the presidency from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). But the general feeling was that the KMT victory has killed any slim chance of Beijing entering into direct talks with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), and that China will instead prefer to wait for a possible KMT 2008 presidential victory.
Much pressure will be on KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is seen as the architect of the KMT victory, to adopt policies that can ease cross-strait tensions while not alienating pan-green supporters, some Washington observers feel.
For Chen, the challenge will be to retain his standing in the face of his low current approval rating, and overcome his "lame duck" position by capitalizing on the powers he retains as president and the pan-green camp's leader, people in Washington say.
Officially, the Bush administration was non-committal about the results of last Saturday's vote.
"I think it's a little early to speak to what the implications of the elections are," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters on Monday.
Repeating the department's boilerplate comment immediately after the election results were announced, Ereli praised the vote as "a reflection of the strength and vitality of democracy in Taiwan."
Ereli did focus on cross-strait issues, saying he was confident that the people of Taiwan "will continue to hold their elected leaders, from whatever party, accountable for promoting peace and stability across the strait in keeping with Taiwan's interest."
Asked about a possible split in the DPP in the wake of the election, Ereli said only that "it's a matter for the Taiwanese people to decide."
Taiwan's de-facto ambassador to Washington, David Lee (李大維), would not comment on Washington's response to the election results, or the vote's impact on US-Taiwan relations.
However, in a presentation to a seminar on Taiwan participation in international organizations, Lee did comment about the "stabilization" of US-Taiwan relations at present, after a rough patch in recent years in which high US officials described Taiwan as a "landmine" in China-US relations and spoke openly about "reunification."
Lee pointed to President Bush's comments last month in Kyoto, in which he spent two paragraphs praising Taiwan's democracy and calling it a model for China.
The speech "represents the restoration of mutual trust and confidence to some extent between our leadership and also represents better communication between our two governments," Lee said.
He likened US-Taiwan relationships to a marriage, with each party following a different agenda and different interests.
"The most important thing for somebody like myself is to reconcile the differences, to try to ... find a common denominator between [Taiwan and the US]," Lee said.
Meanwhile, Michael Fonte, the DPP's liaison on Washington, said the local election results will not have a big impact on US-Taiwan relations.
Washington will breath a sigh of relief over the KMT's strong showing, Fonte concedes, because "it there had been a strong DPP victory, some people may feel the DPP may be emboldened to move more aggressively to cross some of the `red lines' that China has laid out" in cross-strait issues, he said.