Tweaking Beijing 2

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To follow up on Simon’s post, it’s worth also considering Chen Shui-bian’s statement on independence within the context of Taiwan’s political situation. Chen clearly has his problems, most notably his wife’s indictment, but he is sitting pretty these days compared to Ma Ying-jeou, who stepped down last month as head of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) after he was indicted on corruption charges. It’s a huge change from last summer, when massive protests were held to call for Chen’s resignation, and Ma was considered the heavy favorite to win the 2008 presidential race.

I just got back from a reporting trip to Taipei, and the members of Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party who I spoke with seemed confident about the presidential race. Ma, meanwhile, told me “the KMT has a very strong sense of crisis. If we are not able to win in 2008, we might become a permanent opposition party.” Chen is trying to capitalize on that reversal of fortune and give his party a big push as it goes into the elections. Moves like attacking the late dictator and KMT head Chiang Kai-shek, or renaming state institutions like China Shipbuilding, which became CSBC Corporation, Taiwan, are all about appealing to the DPP’s core voters, who back independence and a strong Taiwanese identity. Chen may enjoy tweaking Beijing, but he must truly love it when they respond. “A criminal in history,” from the lips of Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is a ringing endorsement to the ears of the DPP’s core supporters.