The voters of Taiwan have just handed their friends and well-wishers in the United States a gratifying victory in their nation's parliamentary elections. It hasn't received much notice in the press here, but it deserves to be noted for the triumph it is.
Taiwan, which has been an independent nation since the communists seized China during World War II, was dominated from its inception in 1945 until 2000 by the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. The Nationalists have never made any secret that their ambition is to reunite the island with mainland China when the latter has been purged of communism and is a free country again. Their chief opponent is the Democratic Progressive Party, which elected Chen Shui-bian as president of Taiwan in 2000 and has since tended increasingly to favor Taiwan's independence -- not only from Communist China, but from any successor government of China, however free.
This tendency has naturally infuriated Beijing, which, of course, prefers the Nationalists' policy of eventual reunion with the mainland, albeit a non-Communist mainland. More important, it squarely conflicts with American policy, which agrees with the Nationalists in favoring Taiwan's ultimate reunion with the mainland after the communists there have been overthrown. To Washington, President Chen's policy of cautiously increasing Taiwan's separation from China simply aggravates Beijing to no purpose, since Taiwan is for all practical purposes entirely independent of the People's Republic of China and has our assurances that we will make sure, by military means if necessary, that it remains so.
Nevertheless, President Chen, seeking to benefit politically by encouraging separatist tendencies in Taiwan, has pursued a policy of increasing the political distance between Taipei and Beijing. At the moment, for example, he is sponsoring a referendum, to be held in conjunction with the island's forthcoming presidential election on March 22, that would make it national policy to seek to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan" rather than its formal name, which is "the Republic of China." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described this as a "provocative policy," which it surely is.
The Kuomintang, of course, bitterly opposes Chen's proposal. And that is why it is extremely noteworthy that, in the nationwide parliamentary elections just held, the voters of Taiwan gave a landslide victory to the Kuomintang, handing it nearly three-quarters of the seats in Parliament.
This drubbing foreshadows disaster for Chen's DPP in the elections of March 22, which will vote both on Chen's successor as president and on the referendum. Recognizing the disaster that has already occurred as well as the one to come, Chen (whose second and final term as president is expiring) has resigned as party chairman to take responsibility for the defeat. The DPP's candidate to succeed him, Frank Hsieh, is expected to play down the issue. But if the Kuomintang defeats Hsieh and the referendum, and elects its candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, as Taiwan's new president, the United States will have a loyal and dependable friend in that key position.
The biggest winners, however, will be the people of Taiwan. They will continue to enjoy their de facto independence and the island's famous prosperity, without unnecessarily insulting their large and dangerous neighbor across the Strait of Formosa. And they will continue to have an indispensable friend and ally in the United States of America.