The outcome of Saturday’s presidential election led to a “heavy sigh of relief” in Beijing and Washington, and the US did much in the run-up to the elections to boost President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) electoral bid while also hedging against the possibility of a victory by the opposition, a report on the elections said on Sunday.
The possibility of a victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Saturday led to “very poor decision making” on some occasions within US President Barack Obama’s administration and a “reprehensible” attack on DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) via a leak to the Financial Times, at a time when Tsai was visiting Washington to explain her policy position to US officials, the US-Taiwan Business Council said in a report on the elections.
Ma defeated Tsai by a margin of about 800,000 votes on Saturday, defying expectations of a neck-and-neck race.
“With this statement, [Tsai] was greeted with what can only be seen as a slap across the face,” the report said. “This was not only meddling with the Taiwan elections, it was also inhospitable as it relates to Dr. Tsai being a guest in the United States.”
“More troubling still, this was a clear effort to telegraph to the Chinese that America doesn’t like the DPP either,” it said.
“To marginalize Taiwan’s democracy through ill-planted media stories or disinterest in the bilateral relationship is to invite the Chinese to continue to push back American resolve to stand by Taiwan’s democracy and to ensure that China’s next government doesn’t coerce Taiwan into arrangements that cannot be supported in Taiwan,” the report said.
The report nevertheless lauded recent developments that seemed to point to increased willingness on Washington’s part to engage with Taiwan, such as the upgrade package for Taiwan’s F-16A/B aircraft, the announcement of Taiwan’s qualification for the Visa Waiver program and a visit to Taiwan by a senior US official.
Whether those positive developments continue or “slip back into the morass” now that Ma has been re-elected remains to be seen, the report said.
“[W]e have spent 8 of the past 11 years not talking with Taiwan” on trade relations since 2001, the report said. “That approach may have worked when Taiwan had no options in engaging on trade liberalization, but that is not the case anymore. President Ma’s victory will add further trade momentum and open more global trade doors to Taiwan.”
Such positioning by the US on trade with Taiwan is therefore increasingly counterproductive, it said.
On arms sales, the report said that while the Obama administration had approved US$13 billion in arms sales to Taiwan under Ma, none of those programs — holdovers from the administration of former US president George W. Bush — represented a decision on Washington’s part to release new capabilities to Taiwan.
Whether the US is prepared to release new platforms and the level to which Beijing will be kept in the loop regarding future arms sales will all be indicative of future US commitment to ensuring Taiwan’s defense, the report said.
Turning to China, the report said Ma’s re-election would likely lead to a low-key approach by Beijing for the next 12 months, as China prepares for a power transition within the Chinese Communist Party.
Although relations are expected to continue along the same path toward economic rapprochement, the continued military threat that China poses to Taiwan is worrying, the report said.
“In China’s mind, Ma owes Beijing for his election victory, and payment will be due after the Chinese complete their leadership transition,” it said, adding that it disagreed with the view that Beijing would not lean on Ma because it understands the constraints he faces domestically.
“President Ma won the election with a solid margin, but it was a far cry from the 2008 result,” the report said. “This has important implications for Ma’s … ability to continue to move forward with China.”
Despite being defeated, the DPP won almost 6 million votes and its number of seats in the legislature increased by 13, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost 17. The Taiwan Solidarity Union, a pan-green ally of the DPP, won three seats.
With the rebalanced legislature, and the KMT now having 64 seats in the legislature — from 81 in 2008 — while the DPP has 40, the executive will have to grapple with each bill in the legislature, the report said, adding that there was no certainty the legislature would agree to efforts by the government to develop its own version of a “fast-track” authority to facilitate passage of bilateral and multilateral deals.
“President Ma’s victory in the election means that we will see short-term stability in Taiwan … The worry is 2013 and beyond,” the report said. “Ma’s job in his second term is going to be much harder.”
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