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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: Politics in the Strait

Council on Foreign Relations

Updated: March 24, 2008
Author: Jayshree Bajoria

Taiwan’s voters returned a Nationalist to office who promises a less confrontational approach to relations with mainland China. On Saturday, the Nationalists won by a landslide (LAT), and voters also rejected a controversial referendum on Taiwan’s status (Reuters) in the United Nations, bringing praise and relief from Beijing (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Ma Ying-jeou, now president-elect, should find his program of closer ties with Beijing (WashPost) met with enthusiasm in parliament, already controlled by his Nationalist, Kuomintang (KMT) party, which dominated parliamentary elections in January.

Ma’s election ends over a decade in which the prospect of a national referendum on independence has caused serious friction, at times escalating to military saber-rattling, across the Taiwan Strait. Problems, including varying definitions of what Taiwan’s status actually is, will still plague cross strait relations. Yet experts believe conditions exist for improvement.

From the United States’ perspective, the election results are good news, writes CFR’s China expert Adam Segal in a New York Times blog. He says over the last few years of DPP President Chen Shui-bian’s administration, there was “a real fear in Washington that the United States could unwittingly be drawn into a conflict with China in the Taiwan Strait.” Under President Chen, who pushed for the island’s independence and limiting economic ties with China, Taiwan has had a cool relationship with Washington, a struggling economy, and fraught relations with China. President Bush welcomed the results saying it “provides a fresh opportunity for both sides to reach out and engage one another in peacefully resolving their differences.” CFR’s Daily Opinion Roundup features editorials hailing Taiwan’s elections as a model for democracy for China and the region.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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