BEIJING - I am always attentive when Chinese start talking about Taiwans upcoming presidential election. But yet again, I get the impression that the Chinese, in both high and not-so-high places, dont really understand what is happening on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Having learned from past experience, the Chinese government is playing it low key this time around. But in its own careful way, China is quietly hoping that Ma Ying-Jeou, the current Taiwanese president who is the Kuomintang (KMT Nationalist Party) candidate, will be re-elected. This is based on the orthodox Greater China tradition that aims at strengthening ties among the Chinese-speaking territories. Almost all the Chinese conversations I hear, whether from the streets or on the Internet, are based on this same logic.
Somehow, from a political and historical viewpoint, it is rather odd for the Chinese authorities to be criticizing Ms. Tsai Ing-Wen, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, who is running against the incumbent. Beijing considers that the Republic of China in Taiwan has been effectively finished and superseded by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). So according to Chinas logic, the DPP simply shouldnt exist. If we use spatial concepts as a metaphor, the PRC exists in a three-dimensional world yet finds itself criticizing something in a fourth dimensional world that, theoretically at least, its not supposed to see. This is strange indeed.
The Chinese authorities also have a funny attitude towards President Ma Ying-jeou. According to the prevailing teaching in schools, and the political ideology in China since 1949, the KMT are reactionaries. Although cross-strait relations have improved in recent years, the KMT is still generally considered as rebellious. How can one express goodwill on one hand, and stimulate mass hatred towards the KMT on the other?
The elite officials in the KMT are predominantly native Taiwanese. The KMT has been beaten by the DPP in two presidential elections since 2000, and it has gone through several reorganizations, so it is no longer the same party that left China 62 years ago. Pretending that the KMT is still the same party that left China in 1949 is very unrealistic. Ma Ying-Jeou himself would almost certainly agree.
Another point is the way the Chinese regard the candidacy of James Soong. He is a pro-Chinese reunification candidate, a former high-ranking official who fell out with the KMT and founded his own small party, the People First Party. Many believe he is dishonest and denounce him for running a campaign as political revenge on President Ma for sacrificing national interests.
Whether or not Mr. Soong is dragging down Mr. Ma, or up to some other kind of trickery, is hard to prove. But one thing is worth noting: Mr. Soong says what's needed most is reunification. Still, even though he is most in line with the Chinese people, his candidacy is much criticized in Beijing.
Its hard to imagine anyone proclaiming the reunification of Taiwan and China with as much fervor as Mr. Soong. So why are the mainlanders criticizing him so strongly? This too is not clear.
Many on the mainland profess to be experts on Taiwans politics. Yet few consider how this election might look from the Taiwanese viewpoint. That's why reading their commentaries is like someone scratching your feet with your boots still on. Or put more bluntly: if your own viewpoint is based on false premises, you will understand little of how Taiwanese will react. It is the difference between being a player on the field, and a supporter up in the stands.
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