2012 ELECTIONS: US media start paying attention to election

BEIJING INDECISION::Newspapers in the US reported that Chinese officials did not know how to respond to Ma’s plummeting support rates and Tsai’s popularity

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - Page 3

The US media is starting to pay more attention to Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election after largely ignoring the campaign.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the closeness of the election race had become an “unexpected cause for alarm” in Beijing.

The Christian Science Monitor said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposal for a peace accord with China had set him back in the polls as it kindled fears of an unwanted change in the “status quo.”

According to the Post, Ma had been hurt by the perception that he was moving “too close too quickly to the Communist government.”

In a story written by Keith Richburg in Beijing, the newspaper said: “While clearly concerned about the turn of events, Beijing’s authorities seem uncertain how to respond.”

It said that Chinese leaders and others in China had made obvious their dislike for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who also serves as chairperson of the DPP.

“But they [Chinese leaders] also fear that any blatant interference might create a backlash among Taiwanese voters,” the Post said. “That means it is unlikely, in the view of analysts, that China would stage a repeat of the provocative missile tests or the 2000 warning by [then] Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基), who bluntly cautioned Taiwanese not to ‘vote impulsively.’”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 23 that the election was widely viewed as a referendum on Ma’s efforts to thaw relations with China — policies much favored by Washington.

“Analysts said US officials might look for small ways to help Ma, such as quickening continuing efforts to drop Taiwan visa requirements for visits to the US, while trying to keep from appearing to meddle in the island’s domestic affairs,” the Journal said.

The Post said that for the moment, China’s main response to Tsai’s climb in the polls appeared to be a kind of regional “get out the vote” effort on Ma’s behalf by encouraging some of the estimated 1 million Taiwanese living in China to return home to cast their ballots, presumably for Ma.

The story said that some officials and government-affiliated academics had been quietly warning of the “calamities” that might ensue if Tsai were elected.

And several analysts said a victory by Tsai would mark a personal setback to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) “who has made improving relations with Taiwan a key part of his legacy.”

Jin Canrong (金燦榮), a professor of international studies at Bejing’s Renmin University, told the Post: “The top leaders don’t want to see any difficulties happening on cross-strait relationships since their term is ending.”

“Though they want to do something to influence the ballot, they dare not do anything, because they’re afraid it will backfire,” Jin said.

Jin added that the only beneficiary of increased tension across the Strait would be the People’s Liberation Army, which could see its budget increase along with the likelihood of renewed confrontation.