January 15, 2016

Taiwan’s Election Has Echoes of 1992

By Harry Krejsa and Phoebe Benich

This Saturday, Taiwan will elect a successor government to President Ma Ying-jeou and his ruling KMT party. Over the last eight years, the Ma administration has pursued a warming of ties with mainland China with marked success. With lower temperatures across the Strait of Taiwan, the island and its mainland neighbor have enjoyed more stable relations and growing interdependence. Yet a fervently anti-incumbent mood has defined this campaign, one driven by economic anxiety and exacerbated by questions of Taiwanese identity.

The opposition DPP, led by Dr. Tsai Ing-wen, have deftly capitalized on the electorate’s anxiety and stand poised for victory. Despite following a president who could objectively claim substantial foreign policy victories, Dr. Tsai may be about to prove that the old Clintonian adage, “It’s the Economy, Stupid,” resonates far beyond America’s shores.

Indeed, the Ma administration likely deserves more credit than it receives for the accomplishments of its two terms in office. Since cross-strait rapprochement began eight years ago, direct flights between Taiwan and China have grown from near-total prohibition to almost 900 per week. Mainland tourist visits are bringing significant new economic and cultural ties to Taiwan and China, with 5,000 individual and 5,000 tour group travelers allowed to make the trek each day. More significantly, cross-strait trade has grown to $200 billion per year. President Ma and his government’s policies have not only stabilized a tumultuous relationship, but also resulted in substantial material gain.

Read the full op-ed at The National Interest.