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Taiwan's winning party distances itself from independence platform

By Julia Jacobs, Medill News Service
Taiwan's winning party distances itself from independence platform
Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party Secretary-General Joseph Wu discusses the recent elections on the island during a visit to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Tsai Ing-wen, DPP's chief, displaced the more conservative Kuomintang party candidate with an overwhelming majority of the vote. Photo by Julia Jacobs/Medill News Service

Washington, D.C. -- Days after the election of Taiwan's first female president, a top official of the winning party said the dominant factor in the election was young voters' discontent with the current government, and the outcome should not be taken as a bid for independence from China.

In a visit to Washington, D.C., after Saturday's elections, Democratic Progressive Party Secretary-General Joseph Wu warned against interpreting the election of Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP chief, as a boost for Taiwanese independence from China, which the DPP has supported in the past.

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Tsai won the presidential election with over 56 percent of the vote against Eric Chu of the more conservative Kuomintang party.

"Many would like to interpret the KMT's defeat as China's defeat," Wu said. "The issue should not be the one to define the election results."

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It is the second time a DPP candidate was elected to Taiwan's executive office, unseating a president from the KMT who sought a closer relationship with mainland China. The first time was in 2000. On Saturday, the party also won a majority of Taiwan's legislature, claiming 68 of 113 parliamentary seats.

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Although the DPP supported Taiwanese independence in the early 1990s, its platform has evolved, Wu said. The secretary-general said the party plans to focus on maintaining the status quo in relations with China, a platform the president-elect emphasized in her victory speech on Saturday.

"In order for the two sides to move on, we have tried very hard to accommodate Chinese ideas," Wu said. "It's also necessary for the Chinese to move forward, as well."

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Speaking at an event held by two Washington think tanks, Wu said China's "reserved" response to Tsai's candidacy was a positive step in the neighbors' relations. China's Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement following the elections affirming its opposition to any Taiwanese movements toward independence.

"We are willing to strengthen contact and exchange with any parties and groups that recognize that the two sides belong to China," the statement said.

Richard Bush, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said China aims to paint the DPP victory not as a result of sweeping changes in public opinion but as the result of smaller factors, such as a low voter turnout and the release of a videotape by a Taiwanese K-pop singer apologizing to China for waving a Taiwanese flag on TV; the apology went viral on social media.

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"It will honestly take us a while to figure out whether this did reflect a more far-reaching change in attitudes that will then affect who holds power for some time to come," Bush said in an interview following Wu's address.

Wu said the United States has played a "balancing role" in relations between China and Taiwan by encouraging discussion between the two sides. Following the elections, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying the United States shares an interest in maintaining a stable and peaceful relationship between China and Taiwan and quickly dispatched a former deputy secretary of state to the island's capital.

Tsai, a 59-year-old lawyer, thanked the United States in her victory speech for supporting Taiwan's democratic elections and forecast an era of "new politics" on the island. Tsai said she plans to work with the KMT government during the transition before her inauguration on May 20.

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