“The age of Communist Party rule is coming to an end,” Wang told his audience, a mix of local students and young academics from mainland China — the beneficiaries of a warming of relations across the Taiwan Strait that has increased the flow of goods and money between the two erstwhile enemies and also of tourists, scholars and ideas.
China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has cheered the rapprochement, calculating that a surge in direct contacts will bind Taiwan ever more closely to the mainland and advance its goal of unification. There are now 558 direct flights a week between Taiwan and China, up from none when President Ma Ying-jeou, the incumbent in a tight election race, took office in 2008 and launched a push for closer relations.
In business, Taiwan increasingly looks to China, which now accounts for more than 40 percent of its exports and is home to more than a million Taiwanese lured by China’s vast pool of cheap labor and huge market. In politics, however, the power of attraction lies with Taiwan, once a dictatorship that now, in stark contrast with China, holds regular elections and boasts a boisterous free press.
“We have what they don’t have. This will have a long-lasting effect,” Ma said of China at a news conference this week.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he added, but Taiwan’s example nonetheless is prodding mainland Chinese to raise questions about “how leaders are selected.”
The Communist Party, which bans rival parties and any public questioning of its right to rule, is due to announce a new leadership — selected in secret — later this year.
Closeness of leaders fascinates
When Ma recently made a campaign stop in Hsinchu, a high-tech and education center on Taiwan’s northwestern coast, students from China turned out to listen to his stump speech — and marveled at how Ma waded into the crowd to shake hands and exchange small talk.
“Our leaders are always so far away,” said a student from Nanjing who got close enough to Ma to shake his hand. The student, who requested anonymity, said he worries that many people on the mainland are too unruly for an immediate transition to Taiwan-style democracy, but he still thinks that the current system of rigid one-party rule has to change.
State-controlled media in China have mostly played down Taiwan’s democracy or portrayed it as a raucous farce. But Saturday’s elections for both the presidency and the legislature have been widely followed on the Internet, with some Web portals in China providing special election sections and even live coverage of debates between Ma, who is a candidate for the Kuomintang, or KMT, and his rivals. His principal foe is Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party wants to keep Beijing at arm’s length. Beijing has made clear that it wants Ma to win and warned of turbulence in the event of victory by Tsai.