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It's a shame that more Americans don't understand what's been happening with the recent Taiwan Presidential elections, because it's far worse than what happened in America's 2000 election between Bush and Gore.
The March 20 election was extremely close: Chen, the incumbent, won by only 30,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast. However, there's no law or constitutional provision for a recount, and there's no way for a "Supreme Court" of some kind to declare Chen the winner. So the election results are in chaos, although Chen is declaring himself the winner.
But it gets worse. Incredibly, Chen was wounded by a sniper on March 19, and there's reason to believe that he got some sympathy votes from that.
So there's a big conspiracy theory issue going on, with the Chen's opponents accusing him of having staged the sniper incident in order to get more votes.
The Taiwanese have even brought in Henry Lee, the New York based forensic scientist who became famous in 1995 when he testified in O.J. Simpson's trial. Henry Lee said that the sniper incident appears to have been real, not phony or staged.
The confusion has resulted in massive riots and demonstrations, including some violence. Some 200,000 people participated in the demonstrations this past weekend.
As we'll explain, these conflicts expose a gaping generational-based fault line in the Taiwan population: those who want to move closer to China, and those who don't.
China's history is speckled with large internal rebellions that leave tens or hundreds of millions dead. The two most recent were the Taiping Rebellion (1852-64) and Communist Revolution (1934-49). A new rebellion is thus "scheduled" to start in the next 10-15 years. (Those who believe that modern society has somehow abolished the laws of history are going to be disappointed.)
The 1940s civil war was fought between Mao Zedong's Communist Party and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party. Chiang fled to Taiwan and established a Nationalist Chinese government there. (Taiwan had been controlled by imperialist Japan from 1895 to 1945, when it reverted to China.)
Mao's reign was disastrous for the Chinese people. Tens of millions of people were either starved or executed, especially during the Great Leap Forward in 1958-60. And in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-70, all universities were closed, preventing students from obtaining an education.
The generation that grew up in the 50s and 60s is sometimes called China's "miserable generation," because they grew up under conditions of mass starvation and execution and then, thanks to the Cultural Revolution, did not even get an education. Today, the people in this generation are in their 40s and 50s, and they survive on state handouts or what they can scrounge from the underside of China's economy.
Their children are in the generation that mobbed Tiananmen Square in a force of millions of college students in 1989, but were brutally repressed. To make problems worse, this generation suffers from a lack of girls, because of a 1970s policy to control population by killing baby girls. This mess is the setup for a typical secular rebellion in the next 10-15 years. As soon as China's current economic bubble bursts, resulting in large scale unemployment, millions of people in China's "miserable generation" will not survive, and that will unleash the suppressed anger of the younger generation.
For years, America and the United Nations supported Taiwan as the "real" Chinese government, but that policy was reversed in the early 1970s. At that point, America recognized the People's Republic of China as the "real" Chinese government, which took over Taiwan's seat at the U.N. The world adopted a so-called "One China" policy, which said that China and Taiwan would eventually be reunited.
During all the decades since the 1950s, life was quite different on Taiwan. There were no executions and starvation -- in fact, Taiwan became an economic powerhouse.
China's brutal repression of 1989 Tiananmen Square rebellion had its effect on Taiwan. In 1990, a Taiwanese student movement called the "Wild Lily rebellion" was formed to demand political reform in Taiwan, and to develop a unique Taiwanese identity different from that of China. They particularly objected to the fact that the hand-picked President, year after year, was the leader of Chiang Kai-shek's original nationalist party. As the students put it (PDF),
The result was a new political party which finally won the Presidency in the 2000, and was re-elected in the indecisive election of March 20 of this year.
In order to proceed in this discussion, we need to provide a list of the main players. If you want to read news reports from Taiwan, then cut out the following paragraphs and save them for reference.
The main political party players today, and the colors that they're popularly identified with, are:
Now that you have a scorecard, you can keep everyone straight.
For decades, China has remained very belligerent in its attitude towards Taiwan. The CCP has repeatedly said that any move toward an independent nation of Taiwan would be unacceptable to China and could trigger a reunification war. Such a war would involve America, which has guaranteed Taiwan's protection.
Thus, the rise of the pan-green movement and the election of a DPP President has caused China to issue new threats. Still, China is remaining mostly quiet, at least for the time being.
This provides an example of how two countries might go to war even if neither country wants it. Neither China nor America want to go to war with each other. If the DPP continues to gain power and Taiwan moves towards independence, then China will be forced to intervene in order to maintain credibility with Tibet and its western provinces, where secession is being threatened. If China intervenes, then America will be forced to honor its security agreement with Taiwan and confront the Chinese, in order to remain credibility with Japan and South Korea. So China and America could go to war over Taiwan.
Things never stay quiet for long. The raucous March 20 elections have exposed a major fault line within the Taiwanese population itself. New children come of age every year, and one thing we know is that new generations are never afraid to stir things up, even if it leads to war.