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Taiwan votes for status quo Crisis averted: Independence party set back; rift between native and mainland-born voters heals.


THE THREAT of crisis between China and Taiwan receded when the party that has ruled the island since the 1940s made a surprising comeback in elections last week.

After Taiwan went democratic in 1987 and the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, gave up its monopoly on power, the tide turned away from mainland refugees of 1949 toward native-born Taiwanese.

When native Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, became mayor of Taipei in 1994, he also became favored to win the presidency in 2000 on a platform declaring independence. Beijing has threatened to invade if that occurs.

But last Saturday, the Kuomintang won a majority of legislative seats. Its candidate for mayor of the capital, Ma Ying-jeou, ousted Mr. Chen.

The Kuomintang devised the formula under which Taiwan is one of the most successful countries on earth while pretending not to be, agreeing with Beijing and Washington that China is one country that some day must be unified. Immediately after Mr. Ma's mayoral victory, Beijing called for resumption of talks with Taipei, which Beijing had suspended.

The subtleties and security of Kuomintang policy on the national question reassured voters, native and mainlander alike, more than the brash claims of the Democratic Progressives. Mr. Chen's negative ethnic campaigning boomeranged against him.

Taiwan's success in market economics for the benefit of all its people provoked economic reforms in Communist China. If only Taiwan's success with political democracy could do the same.

While a democratic election was determining Taiwan's future, the paranoid elders of Chinese communism were arresting the founders of a democratic opposition party on the mainland. Taiwan, as it has since 1949, is showing China the model to


Pub Date: 12/19/98

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