Rout of KMT takes US by surprise

EYES ON 2016::Washington officials are worried that the DPP’s growing influence could led to moves toward ‘greater independence’ and thereby increased tensions

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Wed, Dec 03, 2014 - Page 3

Washington sources said that both the White House and the US Department of State were taken by surprise at the depth of defeat suffered by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the nine-in-one elections on Saturday last week.

However, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US would continue to encourage Beijing and Taipei to continue their “constructive dialogue.”

The US view on cross-strait relations had not changed, she said.

Former Pentagon official Dan Blumenthal said the elections showed that Taiwan was “drifting away” from China, and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) would have to deal with it.

“Xi is a strongman — it would be unwise to believe he will simply let Taiwan drift,” said Blumenthal, who is now director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

The only way Xi could “reunify the motherland” was by force and coercion since no one in Taiwan would simply give away their democratic freedoms to a repressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he said.

Writing in a blog for Foreign Policy magazine’s Web site, he said the 2016 presidential elections in Taiwan would be a major test for Xi.

“Will he risk serious tension in the Asia-Pacific to try and affect who becomes Taiwan’s president?” Blumenthal wrote.

The US would have to reckon with a “structurally unstable” situation in the Taiwan Strait, he said.

“For Washington, this means the Taiwan Strait remains the main flashpoint in the Asia Pacific,” he said. “It will need to deter a China that may increasingly externalize its problems. Washington’s China-Taiwan policy must find a way to keep China focused on solving internal problems, protecting the democratic freedoms of the Taiwanese, while playing for time.”

The Taiwanese feared a political association with China, exacerbated by Xi’s handling of Hong Kong, he said.

He criticized US President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to “push hard” for Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and for offering only “tepid” support for Taiwan’s quest for submarines.

Blumenthal said support for unification with China would “continue to wither away” in Taiwan and that the next presidential contest would be about how best to manage de facto independence.

His views were echoed by a reports in other US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, which predicted that as Taiwan moved toward the January 2016 presidential elections, “expect tensions to rise across the Taiwan Strait.”

The newspaper also warned that the danger of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ascent following the nine-in-one elections was that it could freeze trade liberalization not just with China, but with all other countries, “with disastrous consequences for Taiwan’s export economy.”

US government sources, speaking on the condition that they not be named because they were not authorized to comment on the elections, said there was a real danger of growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait if Taiwan moved toward greater independence as the DPP’s influence increases.

The New York Times said the election results signaled that the KMT “will be hard-pressed to retain the presidency.”

Bloomberg news service quoted New York-based Park Strategies senior vice president Sean King as saying: “If opposition Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) can bring her party’s notoriously bickering factions together just long enough to draft a mainland China policy that doesn’t scare off the middle of the electorate, she may very well find herself elected president 14 months from now.”