Saturday marks the first of many crucial elections in 2012. Taiwan's presidential race is viewed as extremely tight between President Ma Ying-jeou (pictured; Kuomintang Party) and Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party. Presumably, the majority of swing voters will opt for the incumbent president Ma, choosing predictability rather than the unknown.
If Ma wins, as I anticipate that he will, many in Beijing, other capitals across the Asia Pacific and Washington will sigh with relief, presuming Ma's victory would mean that tension in the Taiwan Strait will be avoided for another four years.
However, that might not prove accurate. Beijing will not allow reunification to remain an elusive goal indefinitely. It is possible that Beijing's new leaders, set to take office at the end of this year, will increase pressure on Ma to enter into talks about Taiwan's unresolved political future.
But Ma has little room to maneuver in his cross-Strait policies. Despite the warming of ties between the mainland and Taiwan during Ma's first term, the vast majority of Taiwanese continue to support the status quo; in other words, Taiwan's de facto independence with its own political system, its own currency and its own military but lacking de jure independence and international recognition.
In a May 2011 study, Robert Sutter writes that many people in Taiwan and abroad favour the status quo because they erroneously perceive it as allowing the Taiwan administration to enjoy independence of action. Sutter views a rising China as accumulating economic, political and military leverage over Taiwan, which is increasingly forcing Taiwan to follow a path of accommodation (and eventual reunification) with China.
Of all the Asian societies facing the predicament of relying on China for economic prosperity while at the same time fearing a possible security threat from China, Taiwan is the most vulnerable.
Linda Jakobson elaborates on the legacy of Ma's first term in a South China Morning Post op-ed.
Photo by Flickr user jamesonwu.