On Saturday, the people of Taiwan will vote for a new leader to replace President Chen Shui-bian, who has held office for the past eight years. Two candidates are vying for the top job: Frank Hsieh, of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). Both have promised a less confrontational relationship with China, saying they want to establish closer economic ties.
Supporters of Taiwanese independence -- an important campaign issue
At a DPP rally, supporters of Frank Hsieh perform a skit, mocking plans by the KMT’s presidential candidate, Hong-Kong born Ma Ying-jeou, to establish an economic common market with China.
They warn it will lead to an invasion of Chinese labour and agricultural products that would cause job cuts and serious social problems.
Mr Hsieh tells the crowd he’s the candidate who can best protect the core values of Taiwan.
He warns that a win by the KMT, which favours much closer ties with China, could make Taiwan vulnerable to the same fate as Tibet, which has seen violent protests in the past week. It’s a message, which goes down well with his supporters.
“We have to protect Taiwan,” says one man. “If Mr Hsieh wins, Taiwan will never have that kind of stuff. If Mr Ma wins, it will probably happen. So we have to protect Taiwan.”
A woman close by agrees: “We have democracy in Taiwan. I don’t want us to become like Tibet, where there’s no democracy, where the government can use violence. I really hope we can join the UN and have control over our own destiny.”
Another man expresses his faith in Mr Hsieh too: “He’s a genuine Taiwanese, he was born here. He will protect our country. If we are not independent in the future, the Chinese will do the same thing to Taiwan as it is doing in Tibet.”
But the frontrunner in this race is Ma Ying-jeou. He has largely focused his election campaign on the economy. At a news conference, he said the island had stagnated under eight years of DPP rule and that people wanted change.
“I think the thing people hated the most over the eight years is that everything has been idle without making any progress. I’m sure we can make the government more effective and clean than the DPP administration,” the candidate said.
Young voters such as 25-year-old Tien Li think Mr Ma can offer Taiwan a new direction. “We need someone who has a global view and can lead Taiwan’s economy to a better future.”
Asked about China he replies: “I’m positive about Ma’s policy. I think we should open more possibilities, with the economy, business etc as well as cultural links. That would be much better than a closed situation.”
Mr Ma also emphasises his local roots as he speaks in his Taiwanese dialect. He rejects allegations that he’s too soft on China and would not safeguard the island’s interests.
Recent events in Tibet and the threats from mainland China have forced their way onto the Taiwanese election agenda, giving Mr Hsieh of the DPP an opportunity to narrow the gap with his rival.
But its still unclear how much impact it will have on voters as they go to the polls on Saturday.