Tibet Debate Spills Over to Taiwan

Street violence and protests in Tibet have become the focus of the debate in Taiwan's heavily contested presidential elections.

Taiwan's uncensored media has interrupted its ceaseless coverage of the presidential race with reports from Tibet's capital, Lhasa, where violence has erupted on the streets. Parties of all political persuasions have come to a rare consensus; the Chinese government's actions in Tibet are unacceptable.

As Taiwan reacts to China's immediate and stern response to the Tibetan protestors, Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party candidate who holds a lead over Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh, has been asked to defend his pro-China position.

At a news conference Monday, Ma drew a clear distinction, attempting to assure the electorate that a similar scenario would not occur in Taiwan.

"Taiwan is a sovereign nation. To draw an analogy between Tibet and Taiwan is an incorrect one. Tibet is under Chinese rule, Taiwan is not."

China's government, however, claims Taiwan as its territory.

Although China aims to solve the "Taiwan problem" peacefully, the Chinese government has never ruled out the use of force to bring Taiwan back under the mainland's control. Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the nationalists fled to Taiwan following their defeat in the 1949 civil war against the communists.

Hsieh and the Democratic Progressive Party, the current ruling party in Taiwan, prefer to keep their distance from the mainland.

Monday, the party stated that the island could suffer the same fate as Tibet if Taiwan were to become too close to the Chinese government.

Ma responded, "Frank Hsieh made a mistake in drawing such an analogy."

Gerard Dann, a 37-year-old teacher and Democratic Progressive Party supporter from Taipei, believes that the Chinese action in Tibet could translate into a greater threat against Taiwan.

When asked if China might handle Taiwan as it has handled Tibet, Dann said, "Of course. I don't think they would treat Taiwan any differently."

"I think that it is very possible that the situation that has happened in Tibet might happen in Taiwan tomorrow," Dann continued.

When asked about Tibet and Taiwan, Shieh Jhy-wey, head of Taiwan's Government Information Office, told reporters in Taipei this week, "[Taiwan has] gone in the direction of democracy and of human rights."

"We are choosing our own president."

Taiwan's presidential elections will be held March 22.