The January Legislative Yuan elections in Taiwan demonstrated that, for better or worse, the Chen Shui-bian era is over. The rout of Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party by the opposition Kuomintang sent a clear message that the people of Taiwan were utterly dissatisfied with the government’s performance over the past eight years and that they rejected the politics of ideology. Whomever they choose in the March presidential election, it is obvious that the people of Taiwan—while rejecting unification with the Mainland today, anxious to participate actively in the international community, and resentful of steps taken by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to thwart virtually every effort by Taiwan to do so—are far more concerned about securing their future well-being and de facto independence than about pushing “principled” stands on the island’s de jure status. The nightmare scenarios that Beijing has conjured up about how Chen might declare an emergency and enforce “Taiwan independence” to perpetuate himself in office have little relevance to Taiwan’s reality in 2008.
The hard-fought presidential campaign, following the course of many Taiwan political contests, is being conducted in a manner that might offend the Marquis of Queensberry. But Taiwan voters seem largely unimpressed and retain their focus on the issues. The critical question facing all the relevant players after a new Taiwan leader takes office in May will be whether the two sides of the Strait can seize the opportunity presented by the change in Taipei—whoever is elected—to lay a new foundation for the future. If for any reason the parties miss the moment, they might well set in concrete a competitive and even confrontational cross-Strait structure that will deepen existing tensions, complicate U.S.-PRC relations, and continue to threaten the well-being of all concerned.
Previous China Leadership Monitor articles have focused upon China’s significant deficiencies in crisis management and strategic signaling, and explored the role of military-to-military relations in either improving or exacerbating those problems. Often, the success or failure of those interactions is determined in part by the personalities involved. In the past year, there has been a sea change in the Chinese team responsible for these activities, in particular the replacement of longtime interlocutor and nemesis Xiong Guangkai with Ma Xiaotian and Chen Xiaogong. CLM 22 presented a fuller picture of Chen Xiaogong than previously available. This article is devoted to Ma Xiaotian.
The 17th Party Congress called for continuing political reform, particularly at the grass roots. This appeal has been quickly followed by an important new book by the Central Party School that lays out a cautious but important blueprint for political changes over the next 15 years. This article focuses in particular on an important reform in one county in Sichuan Province, both because it may well have informed the thinking that went into the Party School report and because it raises important questions that remain unanswered both in the report and in the materials available on this county’s reforms.
Since the middle of 2007, a number of episodes have thrown light on the relationship between SASAC (the State Asset Supervision and Administration Commission) and the large and increasingly wealthy and powerful state-owned organizations that SASAC is entrusted to manage and “own.” The most important news has been the provisional implementation of SASAC’s long-standing program to harvest dividends from state-owned corporations. SASAC can claim some success in finally achieving a long-sought goal. However, the limited nature of the achievement also highlights the difficulty SASAC has in extending its authority and its reform agenda. A failed effort by China Eastern Airlines to bring in Singapore Airlines as a strategic investor provides a similar lesson. These episodes highlight the rising influence of powerful corporate groupings in China.
Over the four months since the 17th Party Congress altered the lineup of the Party’s Politburo, public appearances by the new leadership have made clear how it has divided up responsibilities for the work of managing major sectors of policy. The resulting division of policy work also reveals a careful balancing of representation among major institutional constituencies on the Politburo, a hallmark technique introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s to reinforce collective leadership in the oligarchy.
Hu Jintao’s power base has largely been centered in China’s inland provinces rather than in the country’s coastal areas. For most of the past decade, Guangdong, one of the wealthiest provinces in the country, was considered the turf of Jiang Zemin and his elitist coalition. China’s political landscape is, however, changing rapidly. Nowhere is this more evident than in Guangdong today, where all three of the top leadership posts have recently been transferred into the hands of Hu Jintao’s protégés. During the first two months of his tenure as the Party secretary in Guangdong, Wang Yang, Hu’s ally, launched a new wave of “thought emancipation,” urging local officials to break free of ideological and political taboos. Wang has also claimed that Guangdong should become a new experimental zone for bold political reforms that would be pioneered on behalf of the rest of the country. In a very real sense, Hu Jintao appears to be building his political power by launching a drive to “conquer” the south for the populist coalition so as to reform the nation’s politics. The ramifications of Hu’s “Southern Expedition,” if we can call it such, may therefore go far beyond factional gains or losses.