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Asia

Sieren's China: Old parties, new friends

The fact that Taiwan's governing party is getting along better than ever before with the Communist Party of China displeases many voters on the island, writes DW columnist Frank Sieren.

Politically, things are functioning increasingly well between Beijing and Taipei. Last year, government representatives met for official talks for the first time. It was the first such summit since the Nationalist government fled to the island following the Communist victory in the civil war of 1949. However, Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, is not recognized as a sovereign state by mainland China. But the rapprochement is impossible to miss: Chinese students can now study at the University of Taipei, and Chinese tourists are allowed to travel to Taiwan. Dozens of trade agreements have also been signed over the last few years.

One would think therefore, that China's President Xi Jinping (photo right) and Eric Chu (left), the head of Taiwan's governing Kuomintang (KMT) party, would have had ample reason to celebrate when they met in Beijing last week. The onetime archenemies have come together to achieve much. Xi emphasized that the mainland is desirous of more "eye level negotiations." Chu is also serious about the new partnership, though he declined to speak all too openly about it. Beijing has to understand that Chu cannot negotiate against the will of the people, regardless of whether or not that will is reasonable. For at home, Chu and his party are coming under increasing pressure.

Electoral setback for the governing party

Frank Sieren Kolumnist Handelsblatt Bestseller Autor China

DW columnist Frank Sieren

Cooperation may be in the interests of Beijing and the KMT, but it doesn't sit well with Taiwan's citizens. Many are no longer convinced that the KMT represents their own best interests. Last November, during the largest regional elections in the island's history, 18 million Taiwanese cast votes, and the KMT was severely punished. One of the reasons for this was the Hong Kong protests known as the "Umbrella Revolution," in which protesters demanded more democracy in the election of Hong Kong's administrative leadership. Beijing's hard stance frustrated the Taiwanese. And the desire for better relations with the mainland quickly dissipated.

In December 2014, the entire Taiwanese cabinet resigned as a consequence of the electoral disaster. Even Premier Jiang Yi-Huah stepped down. KMT Chairman and President Ma Ying-jeou handed over leadership of the party to Chu. Nobody was particularly surprised by this though, as he will be ineligible to run in the upcoming 2016 elections, having already served two terms in office. Presumably, Chu will be the KMT's top candidate in January's elections. Therefore, Xi and Chu will have spoken about possible mechanisms with which the mood of the Taiwanese people can be made more conciliatory. But Chu will need a miracle to become Taiwan's next president.

How to deal with powerful neighbors?

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which won the regional elections, is clearly leading opinion polls. Their political program is clear: rapprochement with the mainland should be put on ice immediately. Whether that is possible is another question. For example, Greece's new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has recently had to come to the realization that powerful neighbors can be demonized in elections, but in the end you can't do much without them.

DW columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.

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