Taiwan politics continued their tumultuous course during the final months of 2006 and early 2007. Former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou’s indictment on embezzlement charges in mid-February, coupled with Ma’s subsequent announcement that he would run for president even though he was stepping down as KMT chairman, overshadowed much else in its immediate aftermath. President Chen Shui-bian’s political and personal problems now share a crowded spotlight not only with Ma’s fate but with important mayoral elections on 9 December, the results of which will importantly shape the fierce political competition culminating in the legislative and presidential elections a year hence. In the meantime, Chen remains committed to bringing about constitutional reform before he leaves office in May 2008, and among the options he has toyed with are some that could spell further trouble in Taipei’s relations with both Washington and Beijing.
Over the same period, the development of Tokyo’s policies toward the Mainland and Taiwan are becoming factors in both cross-Strait relations and Taiwan’s highly competitive politics. While no administration in Tokyo will abandon the “one China” policy yet, there is increasing public and political support in Japan for Taiwan’s democratization process. From Taipei’s viewpoint, this trend meshes well with a rising desire in Japan to maintain the cross-Strait status quo as a hedge against the ongoing, and substantial, modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). For its part, while Sino-Japanese relations have improved in recent months, Beijing lacks full trust in the “commitment” by Prime Minister Abe to resolve the Yasukuni Shrine issue and worries about the limits of Tokyo’s ambitions in respect to Japan’s security role in general, and toward Taiwan in particular.
The disturbing bureaucratic silence that followed China’s recent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test for several days is but the latest in a string of incidents raising questions about civilian control and oversight over the Chinese military. Though few data exist about the internal machinations of the Beijing authorities, this article surveys possible explanations for the apparent lack of bureaucratic coordination on the issue and assesses the potential implications for Chinese civil-military relations.
Recent data on overall public opinion in China make one fairly optimistic about the state of Chinese society. Incomes are up, trust in the central government is high, and many aspects of government are seen as fair. But when one looks more closely at the issues closest to people—health care, social security, and local government—then the potential for social unrest looks significantly greater. This is particularly true when one looks at the effect income has on opinion.
Over the past year there have been numerous signs of an increasingly assertive central government in China. Now, Beijing has promulgated a series of measures that aim to change dramatically the way urban land markets work, curtailing local government discretion, and greatly increasing central government oversight. These measures strike directly at the most important single source of power and income for local government officials. Combined with the fall of Shanghai Party secretary Chen Liangyu, these actions indicate a significant shift in the balance of political power in China away from local governments and toward the center.
The Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Sixth Plenum in October last year passed a long resolution endorsing a major theme—building a “socialist harmonious society”—that the Hu Jintao leadership has pressed since 2004. The plenum also deferred addressing party and army leadership personnel issues that it might have taken up. In so doing, the plenum’s proceedings provided new clues to the ambiguities of Hu Jintao’s power in the current party leadership.
The fall from power of Chen Liangyu and the persistence in power of most members of the Shanghai Gang suggest that something new is afoot in Chinese elite politics. While this development seems difficult to understand using a traditional factionalism model of zero-sum games in Chinese politics, it is less confusing if interpreted in the context of newly emerging norms of “inner-Party bipartisanship,” a hypothesis that notes that leaders associated with the coastal development strategy pursued by Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong are now increasingly being balanced, but not overthrown, by those affiliated with the Chinese Communist Youth League networks headed up by Party secretary-general Hu Jintao. An examination of the fall of Chen suggests some of the new rules that are emerging to guide the country’s top leaders as they seek to manage inner-Party political conflict while maintaining rapid growth, social stability, and one-party rule.