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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 5-55035 Taiwanese Voters
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=03/16/04

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT

TITLE=Overseas Taiwanese Voters

NUMBER=5-55035

BYLINE=STEPHANIE HO

DATELINE=Washington

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: As Taiwan gears up for hotly-contested presidential elections Saturday, polls show a very tight race. Not wanting to be left out, overseas Taiwanese are showing their active interest in events on an island often thousands of kilometers away -- by returning either to cast their ballots or at least show support for their chosen candidate. V-O-A's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

TEXT: The basic debate that is being highlighted in Taiwan this election season is whether or not the island should reunify with China. This issue is reflected in public perceptions of the two main opposing political parties -- the ruling Democratic Progressive Party -- or D-P-P -- which is seen as pro-independence, and the Nationalist Party -- or K-M-T -- which is seen as more sympathetic to reunification with China.

Bob Yang is the Kansas-based chairman of "World United Formosans for Independence," a group that refers to Taiwan by its old name, Formosa. He's going back -- not to vote -- but to show his support for Taiwanese independence.

/// YANG ACT ///

My love for Taiwan, which is my birthplace, is very strong. And that's why I'm going back to Taiwan.

/// END ACT ///

Philip Wu, the California-based president of the Taiwanese Association of America, also supports independence for the island. He is also going back and he plans to cast a ballot.

/// WU ACT ///

I will be voting.

/// END ACT ///

Although U-S law does not recognize dual citizenship, Americans are not prohibited from voting in other elections overseas.

David Wang, consular affairs director at Taiwan's main representative office in Washington, says Taiwanese-Americans who had Taiwanese household registrations can sign up to vote based on their previous information. But he says they can only vote for the island's president and must cast their ballots in person. He adds that although the total number of overseas Taiwanese officially registered this way is only about 94 hundred, this number is more than three times greater than in the last presidential election.

/// FIRST DAVID WANG ACT ///

Take the example of (the year) 2000. I had a figure of 28 hundred people going back to vote, from overseas.

/// END ACT ///

Although the two presidential candidates are running for election in Taiwan, they still manage to draw crowds and money in the United States. A Washington Post article in October reported that 600 supporters paid 20 dollars each to shake hands with K-M-T presidential candidate Lien Chan at a restaurant in northern Virginia.

The Taiwan representative office's Mr. Wang says the current ruling political party, the D-P-P, also has been busy holding its own competing campaign fund-raising dinners in the Washington-area.

/// SECOND DAVID WANG ACT ///

Another one, the next evening, at the Harvest Moon (restaurant) in Virginia -- about the same number of people -- 700 people attended that party.

/// END ACT ///

Ling-chi Wang, Asian-American studies professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says he believes the real reason Taiwanese presidential candidates come to the United States is to seek U-S support against China.

/// FIRST LING-CHI WANG ACT ///

In terms of votes and money, I don't believe they're (Taiwanese-Americans) that significant, in terms of this election. But I think what Taiwan was more interested in, of course, is to mobilize the Chinese-American community, the Taiwanese-American community, to influence American political politicians and the electorate.

/// END ACT ///

Professor Wang says he thinks the continuing political differences between Beijing and Taipei contradict growing cross-straits economic ties that already reach into the tens of billions of dollars.

As evidence of this, Taiwanese media report that air carriers flying between the island, and Hong Kong or Macau on the Chinese mainland, have launched special packages to bring home tens of thousands of Taiwanese businessmen for the election.

Back in the United States, some activist groups say they are concerned when Asian-Americans are more interested in politics back in their home countries than in their own backyards (in the United States). One such critic is Daphne Kwok -- executive director of the "Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies," a group formed in 1995 to encourage Asian-Americans to get involved in the U-S political process.

/// KWOK ACT ///

I have a real problem with that personally. Okay, if you want to do that, that's fine. But you need to be registered to vote here in the United States. You ought to be interested in what's happening here. Because if you are an American citizen, I believe you ought to be very much concerned about U-S policy and what's happening here.

/// END ACT ///

This complaint may be a reflection of an evolving reality. Taiwanese Association of America president Mr. Wu says although he is intensely interested in the island's politics, he acknowledges that most younger Taiwanese-Americans -- many of whom are born in the United States -- are not.

/// SECOND WU ACT ///

To be honest and fair, most of them are not as interested in Taiwan election as compar(ed) to United States presidential election.

/// END ACT ///

(SIGNED)

NEB/SHO/RH/PT



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