China: Monitoring the 2012 Presidential Election

The first of three televised debates in Taiwan's upcoming presidential election was held this weekend, and watched closely by mainland Chinese microbloggers.

Ma Ying-jeou still leads the Kuomintang (KMT), but the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), now rid of Chen Shui-bian, looks ready to make a comeback headed by Taiwan's first female presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen.

A third candidate, James Soong, has registered as a candidate but says he'll only follow through if he can get a million signatures.

Screen capture of Ma Ying-jeou (L) and Tsai Ing-wen speaking during the televised debate.

Screen capture of Ma Ying-jeou (L) and Tsai Ing-wen speaking during the televised debate.

People were able to watch the debate live through various browser-based streaming TV feeds, and clips of it have have been posted to all the major video websites, but the discussion has centered around Sina Weibo. Many viewers expecting something as lively as a US Republic Party primary debate wound up disappointed, and a lot of ‘livetweet’ online discussion sought to point out what many accept as obvious:


If Taiwan can pull off true democracy, then China can too.


What's just common democratic politics in Taiwan is treated by shitizens of the celestial kingdom the same way we treat the soon-to-be canceled Super Girl finals: entertainment to stand around and gawk at.

薛蛮子: 请教专家,全世界不民主选举领导人的国家:朝鲜;古巴。还有吗?有木有?

Experts, please tell me: aside from North Korea and Cuba, are there any other countries in the world with nondemocratically elected leaders? Really? None?

Carrying on with Sina Weibo's legacy of turning lies into ‘fact’, discussion there leading up to the debate even prompted Weibo Piyao, the microblogging platform's official rumor-quashing account to write:

近日有用户发布微博,称马英九提出必须在“代表自由、代表民主、代表公平”前提下谈统一。@微博辟谣 就此联系了马英九竞选总部发言人李佳霏,对方否认马英九曾发表此言论。因此,该用户账号已被注销。

Recently, a user wrote on Weibo that Ma Ying-jeou has said that discussions of reunification will be able to take place if and only when the issues of “freedom, democracy and equality” are all on the table. @WeiboPiyao has contacted Ma's campaign office spokesperson, Lee Chia-fei, who denies that Ma Ying-jeou has ever made such a statement. As such, this user's account has been deleted.

From Wikipedia, ‘Republic of China presidential election, 2012′ (12/04/2011):

One big election topic appears to be the 1992 consensus, a term describing the outcome of a meeting in 1992 between the semi-official representatives of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. The KMT is putting this consensus forward, which aims to be more democratic and to be ratified by the legislature and a referendum for ROC citizens. Under the DPP's new consensus, this should be the basis for negotiations with the PRC.

According to some news junkies, however, in comparison to Taiwan's 2008 presidential election, more Chinese netizen attention was focused during this debate on issues other than just the future of cross-Strait relations. Phoenix blogger Zheng Dongyang covered the whole range of issues, domestic policies included, in his lengthy post about the things which interested him in this debate. With regard to the debate over reunification vs. independence, however, Zheng writes:


Personally, I feel that although it's too early to say who will win, what can be foreseen now is that this election at hand will be the most rational and moderate since Taiwan democratized. The DPP is relying less on a mass people movement to carry it to the top, appealing less and less to public sympathy, ethnic groups, Taiwanese identity, or playing the independence card. Although the DPP has yet to abandon its pro-Taiwan independence policy, it won't like it was under Chen Shui-bian, constantly testing the mainland's bottom line. The KMT, meanwhile, has put the focus on its policy pursuits; as Ma Ying-jeou's Min Nan continues to get better by the day, so too have the number of his trips to the south increased.


What I feel with this televised debate, though, is that if the lasting impression the blue and green camps have given the Taiwanese public is their division over the issue of reunifying with China or remaining independent, the policies of the administrations on both sides have been rebranded in the eyes of the populace. The Choshui River [which traditionally divides the pro-independence south from pro-reunification north] “line” is gradually fading, and both parties have begun to see voters in the middle, the majority of whom support maintaining the status quo in cross-Strait relations, as people who can be united. Absent this historical burden, people are focused more on which of the two parties’ policies are best for their career development or improving their quality of life. This change is what past elections have brought the voters of Taiwan.


  • Correction: “统一” in English is “unification,” not “reunification” (回歸). Taiwan has never been part of the PRC, so please don’t use the “re-” word unless it’s a direct quote.

  • Thanks for pointing out the mistake, corrections made.

  • Thanks for at least striking through the “re-” part. It’s an important distinction that is often missed.

  • Feiren

    Zheng’s post is interesting because it shows that Chinese observers really are gaining sophistication about Taiwanese politics although the conclusions are still often wishful thinking. The more rational nature of the campaign probably has more to do with Tsai’s character than any fundamental shift in how the DPP conducts its politics.

    Ma’s Taiwanese (Minnan) is not getting any noticeably better and his trips to the south aren’t doing much. The Zhuoshui river remains a dividing line between green and blue and if anything the line is moving north. The absence of debate on independence is not a sign of the ‘historical burden’ being put down. It’s simply a consensus that Taiwan has no common future with China.

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