By Selcuk Colakoglu
Taiwan, a state whose official name is the Republic of China and which is recognized only by 23 countries in the world, held its presidential elections on 14 January 2012. This election was an important turning point on the issue of whether Taiwan will carry on as an independent state or whether it will integrate with China along similar lines to Hong Kong.
The candidate of the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party), Ma Ying-jeou, re-elected for his second term with 51.6% of the votes. President Ma, the man who launched the policy of rapprochement with China in 2008, was the candidate favoured by the Mainland. Tsai Ing-Wen, the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the main opposition, came in second place with 45.7%. The DPP believes that rather than unite with China, the country should declare independence as the Republic of Taiwan.
Status quo Continues
In point of fact though Taiwan is regarded by many countries across the world as part of China, it is enjoyed as a de facto independent state. The Peoples Republic of China, which has adopted a ‘One China’ policy, severs all ties with country recognizing Taiwan as an independent country. This is why when the PRC was accepted as a member of the United Nations, the Republic of China in Taiwan lost its membership. After 1971, a large number of countries which followed the lead of the US accepted that the PRC was the only legitimate representative of China and so began to regard Taiwan as a part of China. Nevertheless the USA did not permit the reunion of China by force and to ensure that Taiwan could remain a de facto independent state, the American Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979.
Since then a large number of countries across the world, Turkey among them, have recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate representative of China but have also not failed to keep relations going with Taiwan. For many years Taiwan has accepted this situation and making economic development and the fostering of international trade its priority.
The DPP as the party which backed independence watched uneasily the growth of relations between China and Taiwan between 2000 and 2008. Being only a small island state, Taiwan lost its economic competitive advantage in the face of the irresistible rise of Mainland China in the world economy. Consequently after President Ma Ying-jeou, the defender of closer links with China, came to power in 2008, he began to implement policies for integration with the Mainland. For the first time since Chiang Kai-shek and his armies took refuge in Taiwan in 1949 direct cross-straight flights were opened. President Ma’s rapprochement policies produced a significant upturn in the Taiwanese economy which had been beginning to stagnate. Taiwanese businessmen began trading with Mainland China with ease and even to set up joint ventures.
The re-election of Mr. Ma in the 2012 Taiwanese presidential elections amounts to an endorsement of the Kuomintang Government’s rapprochement policies. The Taiwanese people had an eye on their economic interests when they did not elect the DPP candidate: they did not want to antagonize China. However the fact that the DPP candidate nevertheless polled more than 45% of the vote indicates that in some quarters among the people of Taiwan there are serious objections to reunion with China. China in fact is thinking of reunion with Taiwan over time and through economic integration. Beijing has proposed to Taiwan the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model, which it has implemented in Hong Kong and Macao.
The Significance of the Taiwanese Elections for Turkey
Turkey does not want to damage its relations with China and so where Taiwan is concerned, it follows a policy which lags well behind those of countries like the USA, Germany, Japan, India, and even Vietnam. There are no direct flights between Turkey and Taiwan and visa barriers for travellers between the two countries make commercial relations and touristic exchanges difficult. However, the fact that the Kuomintang’s candidate Mr Ma has been re-elected means that as in 2008 the prospects now are for a period of good relations between China and Taiwan.
So while relations between China and Taiwan are going well, it should be easier to make progress on direct flights to Taiwan by Turkish Airlines and lifting visa requirements between Turkey and Taiwan. Moves in this area would not imply a departure from Ankara’s policy of One China. Hong Kong is part of China but it has an autonomous administration, its own flag and its own currency. Turkey therefore could treat Taiwan like Hong Kong and develop its economic and commercial relations with it more easily.
There has been recent discussion of a strategic partnership between Turkey and China. Turkey has a trade deficit of more than $15 billion in its annual trade with China. So, China should easily appreciate that Turkey would like to benefit from the economic opportunities in Taiwan.
USAK Center for Asia-Pacific Studies