Chen's first task is to woo Beijing
by Cary Huang
Hong Kong Standard

For historical and ideological reasons, Beijing should be grateful to Chen Shui-bian for he realised what generations of Chinese communists fought for but failed to achieve - the overthrow of their long-time foe, the Kuomintang.

Communists and KMT nationalists fought a decades-long civil war in the first half of the last century, costing each side millions of lives. But the political foes appeared to have shared one thing in common - they belonged to one nation - until recently when Lee Teng-hui put forward the "two-state" theory.

As Taiwan began increasingly drifting away from the mainland under Mr Lee's stewardship, Beijing found that the issue was developing from one dominated by internal and ideological conflicts between the communists and KMT nationalists, into an "inter-nation" issue between the mainlanders and the Taiwanese.

Now with a native-born and pro-independence party leader becoming Taiwan's ruler, Beijing sees it as Doomsday for peaceful reunification.

Chinese leaders are obviously pessimistic about the future of cross-strait ties as Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive Party has risen to power on a platform calling for Taiwan's outright independence from the mainland.

While Mr Chen's election might pose an unprecedented challenge against reunification, it does not totally rule out a peaceful solution.

As Taiwan's new leader, Mr Chen faces challenges and constraints that give him less leeway for manoeuvre than his predecessor in pushing for Taiwan's independence.

Mr Chen captured the presidency with just 39 per cent of the vote. The remaining 60 per cent went to the other two pro-unification candidates, the KMT's Lien Chan and maverick KMT official James Soong Chu-yu. This indicated a great majority of Taiwanese favoured the status quo or eventual reunification.

Moreover, Mr Chen's victory shows that all politics boils down to local issues - and not cross-strait relations - as he won on a platform that addressed the daily concerns of the Taiwanese.

Many voters said they supported Mr Chen because they wanted political reform and an end to the nexus of corruption, organised crime and politics that had become the hallmark of the KMT era. No wonder Mr Chen's old slogans about an independent Taiwan lost appeal in his rise to power.

As a ruling party, the DPP is still a minority in parliament. And under a constitutional arrangement of mixing presidential and parliamentary systems, Mr Chen might become a lame-duck president as he lacks support in the comparatively powerful Legislative Yuan, where the main opposition KMT holds a slim majority with 117 seats, while the ruling DPP has just 75, exactly a third of the 225-seat house.

And the DPP has many other daunting tasks ahead of it before it consolidates its grip on power. For half a century, Taiwan has been governed by one party. Taking over will be an incredibly complicated task simply because it has never been done before. It lacks economic experts to manage Taiwan's complex and highly successful economy; it lacks security experts to take over spy agencies and it has no links with the once influential army, which needs time to adjust itself to switching their royalty.

Founded as an idealist party, the DPP is suddenly facing the cold reality of political responsibility.

The untested president will face the immediate challenges of forming a government of political unity: he needs to fulfil the reform pledges that helped in bringing victory; and above all to assuage Beijing's fears that he will move the island towards independence will be his most urgent task as a stable relationship with the mainland is crucial to consolidate power and push reforms.

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