- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

The Bush administration may have caught a break as Taiwan’s independence-leaning ruling party has selected a leading moderate as its candidate in the March presidential election.

Former Prime Minister Frank Hsieh’s upset win Sunday in the internal primary of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could mean reduced tensions with China over the question of Taiwan’s status, no matter who wins the vote.

Chen Shui-bian, the outgoing president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), has irked both Beijing and Washington with provocative moves on Taiwan’s sovereignty. China insists that Taiwan is a breakaway province, and the United States has urged both sides to avoid unilateral moves that would upset the delicate status quo.

“My own feeling is that Washington will be very happy with this result,” said John J. Tkacik Jr., a senior researcher on Asia at the Heritage Foundation. “Hsieh is a very able man, and he made a very good impression when he visited Washington.”

Facing a nuclear standoff with North Korea and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has been eager to contain China-Taiwan tensions.

Mr. Hsieh, a former mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, scored an unexpectedly easy win over three rivals in the party primary for the DPP nomination. Among the also-rans were Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, considered Mr. Chen’s preferred candidate, and Mr. Chen’s vice president, Annette Lu.

The Taiwanese stock market hit a six-year high, and the Taiwanese dollar rose in the first day of trading after the primary vote.

“Hsieh is a moderate of the DPP, and the market reflects that by rising a little higher,” Kevin Lin, manager at the Taipei-based Shinkong Investment Trust Co., told Bloomberg News.

DPP officials yesterday agreed to scrap a second round of the primaries, based on voter opinion polls, after Mr. Hsieh’s three rivals pulled out of the race.

Mr. Hsieh, 60, faces a difficult fight in the general election against former Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, the candidate of the main opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT). The party is widely seen as more sympathetic to Beijing, and has been sharply critical of some of Mr. Chen’s moves toward independence.

But Mr. Ma has been dogged by charges of corruption. Even with the DPP’s relative unpopularity, Taiwanese pollsters say, Mr. Hsieh could make it a close race.

Despite strong U.S. support for Taiwan, the Bush administration has distanced itself from moves by Mr. Chen that have angered China.

China has refused to deal with the DPP-led government, while often hosting senior KMT officials.

As mayor of Kaohsiung, Mr. Hsieh promoted greater business ties and investment with the mainland, a policy opposed by many core DPP voters. Mr. Chen has been suspicious of such links, fearing they may stand in the way of eventual sovereignty for Taiwan.

Taiwanese political analysts were calling the Sunday vote a repudiation of Mr. Chen’s confrontational stance, even within the DPP.

Mr. Chen told reporters in Taipei that he would work for Mr. Hsieh’s victory, adding, “I’m not a lame duck.”

Mr. Hsieh, who still needs grass-roots DPP support if he is to have a chance in the general election, said he would not abandon the party’s campaign to normalize the island’s status and push for its membership in international bodies under the “Taiwan” name.

Mr. Tkacik said the Hsieh victory could be double-edged for China, which is clearly hoping for a KMT win after two difficult terms under Mr. Chen.

“Beijing may actually be cringing at this result, because Frank Hsieh is probably the most electable choice the DPP could have made,” Mr. Tkacik said. “He might actually win.”

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