- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

TAIPEI | Taiwan’s outgoing vice president, Annette Lu, speaking ahead of the presidential elections tomorrow, said the main contribution of President Chen Shui-bian’s administration over the past eight years was a strengthening of national identity.

Before Mr. Chen took over in 2000, general polls indicated only 30 percent of people identified themselves as Taiwanese, Ms. Lu said.

“After eight years, more than 70 percent take it for granted that we are Taiwanese,” she said in an interview. “We built up a national identity and that was not easy.”

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Mr. Chen and Ms. Lu was trounced by the opposition Nationalist Party, or KMT, in January parliamentary elections.

In the last public opinion poll, conducted 11 days ago and before images of China’s crackdown in Tibet flooded Taiwan’s airways, Nationalist Party candidate Ma Ying-jeou had a 20- percentage-point lead over DPP candidate Frank Hsieh.

The DPP hopes violence in Tibet will erode Mr. Ma’s lead because the Nationalists have based their campaign on calls for a common market with China and a peace treaty with the mainland.

Ms. Lu conceded that the parliamentary elections were a big setback for her party.

Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said the results were partly driven by people’s dissatisfaction with the DPP, which has failed to invigorate Taiwan’s weakening economy and has seen several scandals.

China has been angered by the outgoing administration’s emphasis on national identity and its calls for independence.

Beijing, which has some 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, views the island as a renegade province and hopes to reunite it with the mainland one day.

The Chen administration tends to view economic ties with suspicion. It imposed limits on certain Chinese investments like semiconductor manufacturing and opposes Chinese investment in Taiwanese companies.

“The more involvement economically with China in a way weakens the national security of Taiwan,” Ms. Lu said.

Both candidates for president favor more China engagement. Mr. Ma favors robust engagement on economic and cultural issues. Mr. Hsieh says he would move in the same direction, though more slowly.

Tung Chen-yuan, vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top agency for dealing with China, said it is significant that Beijing has kept silent on the candidates.

“That makes it obvious that there’s an opportunity after this election because both candidates are advocating more economic and social opening with China,” he said.