Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taiwan: No Independence In Its New President's Lifetime

Taiwan’s voters have given themselves and China a chance for a healthy, new start. Last week, they elected a president who promised to strengthen relations with the mainland — while ensuring the autonomy of Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. That should be a relief for both sides of the straits.

Over the last decade, Taipei’s push toward independence and Beijing’s rhetorical bullying and real military buildup — including 1,000 missiles pointed at the island — fanned tensions and fears of war. The two governments must now seize this opportunity to build a productive new relationship.

Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party leader and Harvard-educated lawyer, won 58 percent of the vote by arguing that Taiwan’s best hope of boosting economic growth lies in closer relations with the mainland. He has advanced an ambitious agenda that includes regular direct flights, increased tourism and expanded commercial ties.

He is also talking about confidence-building measures — a hot line is one idea — that would reduce the chance of an accidental military confrontation. In the longer term, he says the two governments should negotiate a peace accord that would formally end hostilities dating from 1949 when the Nationalists fled to Taiwan after the Communists took over Beijing.

As for independence, Mr. Ma has sensibly said the issue would probably not be settled in his lifetime and has called for a diplomatic framework in which the two sides simply acknowledge each other’s existence.

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