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Victory Might Mean Better Asian Relations

Published March 23, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan (BRAIN)—Ma Ying-jeou’s landslide victory Saturday in Taiwan’s presidential election should ease tensions between the island nation and mainland China, which claims Taiwan as its own.

And that, analysts say, should be good news for Taiwan’s faltering economy and for the thousands of Taiwan companies that have invested heavily in the mainland, including much of Taiwan’s world-leading bicycle industry.

Ma, of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, took more than 58 percent of the vote on Saturday to defeat Frank Hsieh, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The election was another rebuke to the DPP and its incumbent president, Chen Shui-bian, who has been in office for eight years. (Chen appeared at the Taipei Cycle show earlier this month to inaugurate the new Nangang Exhibition Hall).

In January, voters gave the KMT a sweeping victory over the DPP in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan—its national assembly.

"People want a clean a government instead of a corrupt one," Ma said after his victory. "They want a good economy, not a sluggish one. They don't want political feuding. They want peace across the Taiwan Strait. No war."

Ma is a former Taipei mayor who studied at New York University and Harvard Law School and worked briefly on Wall Street. Favored by Beijing, Ma has pledged to improve economic relations with the mainland.

Ma has called for direct flights between Taiwan on the mainland and allowing more Chinese tourists and investments in Taiwan. He also has raised the prospect of establishing a “common market” between the two countries. According to recent estimates, Taiwan businesses have invested more than $200 billion on the mainland.

Ma also pledged to seek a peace treaty with China that would officially end the hostilities dating from 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek split from the mainland, according to news reports.

According to the Taipei Times, Ma won all but five of Taiwan’s 25 electoral districts, including Changhua and Taichung Counties and Taichung City, where most of the bicycle industry is based. Radio Taiwan International said Ma received the greatest popular support of any president in Taiwan’s relatively short democratic history.

Also Saturday, voters rejected two referendums on applying for membership with the United Nations—a particularly sore subject with mainland China.

Ma will be inaugurated May 20.

—Doug McClellan

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