Taiwan has elected President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party (KMT) for his second term in office. He won with a decisive 5% lead over Ms. Tsai of the Democratic Party. The election was closely watched by the world, with both U.S and China staying neutral -- and relieved at the outcome.
The central issue in this election was Taiwan's relationship with China. President Ma has reached out to China as an economic and trading partner in his first term. This led the opposition to raise concerns that he might seek political unification with China, a hot-button topic in Democratic Taiwan which broke away from Communist China.
Did you know that Taiwan has existed independently since 1949 but is not recognized as a country? It does not have a seat in the United Nations -- its election is opposed by China which regards Taiwan as a runaway province. China has 15,000 missiles pointed at this island of 23 million people; Taiwan in turn is on military alert and supported by the United States.
Lets take a look back at the relationship between these two neighbors separated by the South China Sea. History talks of people of Aborigine descent occupying the island until 7th century AD. Over time, people from mainland China settled on the island and became the majority. The island traded hands between Spanish, Portuguese, mainland China (from 1683-1895) and Japan.
After World War II, Taiwan was handed over to China. The Chinese revolution of 1949 saw the Communist party headed by Mao Zedong claim control of mainland China. The Nationalist party leader, Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan along with two million refugees, vowing to fight back. With the outbreak of Korean War a year later, the U.S sent a fleet into Taiwan Strait to prevent possible Chinese attack on this island.
As tension between locals and refugees from Mainland China increased, Chiang imposed martial law -- anyone who opposed the government was imprisoned or killed. After Chiang passed away in 1975, power passed on to his son. But the voice of democracy and freedom were getting louder. In 1991, the country came out of martial rule and held its first free elections.
Despite its political isolation, Taiwan has grown into a large manufacturing hub, especially for the computer industry in recent years. So far, it has been trading mostly with U.S and Europe, but the financial crisis in the West has Taiwan looking for other trading partners. It does not need to look much further than just across the strait at China which is a rising economic power.
The leaders of the two countries met for the first time in 2009 after nearly sixty years, and in 2010, they signed a historic trade agreement. This has been a boon for Taiwan's economy which was suffering from its worst unemployment in decades. Despite this progress, China continues to build missiles facing Taiwan and objects to U.S sale of arms to Taiwan.
President Ma has clearly stated that he will not act against the will of his people and seek political unification with China. It will be an interesting next few years as we see how this relationship evolves.