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Western Press Review: Taiwan's Election, U.S.-Iran

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 20 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Saturday's presidential election in the Asian island-state of Taiwan evokes much commentary in the Western press today. Analysts assess the victory of Chen Shai-bian, a past supporter of independence from mainland China. They also look at the defeat of the Nationalists who ruled the island for half a century, and the implications for Taiwanese and Western relations with Beijing's communist leadership. There is also some comment today on U.S.-Iran ties, after Washington's decision last week to ease economic sanctions on Iran.

TIMES: This was a vote against the status quo

Our selection of commentary on Taiwan begins in Britain, where two major national dailies carry editorials on the weekend's election. The Times salutes the results as the start of "a new era [of] of democratic pluralism" in Taiwan. The paper writes: "This is an important moment for all Chinese. A young, confident electorate shrugged off intimidating statements from Beijing that to vote for Mr. Chen, whose party's charter calls for an independent Taiwan, was to court the risk of war." This, the paper adds, was "above all, a vote against the status quo."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The election's challenge for Beijing should be an opportunity for closer economic relations

The Financial Times explores the election's "challenge for Beijing." It says the greatest need now is for Taiwan and mainland China to resume talks on future relations. Chen, it writes, "is keen for improved relations and prepared to make concessions on trade and investment that were rejected by [his predecessor]. As long as China does not become too preoccupied with the doctrinal basis for talks," the editorial adds, "this should be an opportunity for closer economic relations."

The Financial Times concludes: "It is still too early to know whether China's initially mild response to the election shows this point has been understood. But Beijing should be in no doubt of the damage an over-hasty response would do to its own ultimate objectives."

IRISH TIMES: Chen owes his election to a split in the ranks of the Nationalists

In nearby Dublin, the Irish Times calls the election "a political earthquake with potentially grave regional repercussions." In its words, Chen "owes his election to a split in the ranks of the Nationalists, who have ruled the island since they came there in 1949 after their defeat in the Chinese civil war. Their removal from office is as important an event as the coming to power of a man who has rejected the 'one country -- two systems' formula laid down by successive Chinese governments, which regard Taiwan as a renegade province."

The editorial goes on: "The first reactions from China to Mr. Chen's election were cautious and low-key -- in sharp contrast to the sharp rhetoric before the election which warned Taiwanese voters not to support him." The Irish Times says: "It looks as if this was perceived as bullying tactics by many voters, in which case they have rebounded with potentially major loss of face for Beijing. That creates a highly charged situation requiring very delicate handling by Mr. Chen, the Chinese leadership and other regional players, including the United States."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: It's time for China, Taiwan and the U.S. to cool any threats before rhetoric becomes reality

The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor has what its editorial titles "no regrets over Taiwan." For the paper, "it's time for China, Taiwan and the U.S. to cool any threats before rhetoric becomes reality." The editorial continues: "To possibly appease Beijing's wounded pride over his victory, Chen has offered to meet Chinese leaders anywhere for talks on 'reconciliation' -- but not reunification. He may need to do more," it adds, "especially since China recently threatened to take the island by force if Taiwan doesn't commit itself to a timetable for reunification." As for the U.S., a military power in the region, the Monitor says "it needs to dance carefully between China and Taiwan in the weeks ahead."

NEW YORK TIMES: Taiwan has taken an important new step in its democratic evolution

The New York Times today writes of Taiwan's "political earthquake." The paper says: "Taiwan has taken an important new step in its democratic evolution. But it may also have inaugurated a period of potentially dangerous uncertainty in its relations with mainland China. Beijing's recent military threats toward Taiwan were aimed primarily at defeating Chen, who first entered politics as an advocate of Taiwanese independence."

The editorial notes that "Beijing is already looking for reasons to declare that Taiwan has broken with the notion that there is only one China." It believes that "preserving the one-China formula remains the surest basis for maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait, and with it Taiwan's democratic and capitalist way of life." But it concludes: "Beijing should recognize that its goal of reunifying China should be pursued exclusively by peaceful means."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Mr. Chen must exercise caution

The Wall Street Journal Europe says that, after his victory, Chen Shai-bian faces several challenges. One "is appointing a premier who can work with a hostile legislature [still dominated by the Nationalists]." Even more important, the paper suggests, "is how Chen will balance the twin desires of the Taiwanese people to improve relations [with China] and also to preserve the island's claim to sovereignty." Finally, the paper adds, "there is one other area in which Mr. Chen must exercise caution: [the Nationalists' huge accumulated] wealth." It says: "While the Taiwanese people do want to see the [Nationalist party's business wing] reformed, they would not be comfortable with any sort of [persecution] against the party's members."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The Taiwanese were moved by the need for internal change

The Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve carries an editorial headed, "Taiwan Enters the 20th Century." The paper writes: "Chen Shai-bian's victory is the end of a personal combat he has waged for 20 years -- not against Beijing, but against the Nationalists, whose methods in power -- until the 1980s -- oddly recalled those of [the mainland Communists]." For the paper, "It's the need for internal change, far more than the desire for independence, that moved the Taiwanese [to vote as they did]."

WASHINGTON POST: Khatami has yet to show that he can and will take charge of foreign policy

There are two comments today on U.S.-Iran relations. The Washington Post asks in an editorial: "Can the Iranian people's evident desire for closer ties with the West, as expressed in a series of credible democratic elections, force Iran's government to change its pro-terrorist, anti-American foreign policy?" Assessing last week's easing of U.S. sanctions against Tehran, the paper answers: "The Clinton administration hopes so."

The editorial goes on: "Last week, in a response to [Iranian] reformers' triumph in February parliamentary elections, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged past U.S. interference in Iranian internal affairs, offered to expand people-to-people contacts, and legalized the importation of rugs, pistachios and other Iranian non-oil exports. This proposed expansion of trade," it says, "is appropriately modest." The paper adds: "[President Mohammed] Khatami's reformist intent is clear on the domestic front, but he has yet to show that he can and will take charge of foreign policy -- that he, too, [like the U.S.] is willing to take some risks for the sake of a bilateral relationship."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A resumption of ties is essential for the security of the Gulf

From Britain, the Financial Times finds that "last week's move by Washington to ease sanctions on Iran was long overdue." It writes: "The decision to lift the ban on important non-oil exports, and promises of increased efforts to return assets frozen since the 1979 revolution, are a welcome development that will bolster the reform movement led by President Mohammad Khatami. But bolder steps," it believes, "will be required before Iran and the U.S. can put their turbulent past relationship behind them."

As important as the easing of sanctions, the Financial Times writes, "are U.S. attempts to dismantle the wall of mistrust between the two countries. By expressing regret for some past U.S. actions in Iran, and for backing Baghdad in the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war, Madeleine Albright is helping to create a more favorable climate."

The paper sums up: "Both Tehran and Washington are eager to open a new page in relations. A resumption of ties is essential for the security of the Gulf, the stability of oil policy and the continued isolation of Iraq."