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DECEMBER 7, 1998 VOL. 152 NO. 22

Chen Shui-bian, mayor of Taipei. CHERYL SHERIDAN/BLACK STAR FOR TIME

Beijing is Watching
A tightly contested election in Taipei could produce a national leader with independence on his mind

If all politics is local, as a grizzled American pol once observed, Chen Shui-bian should have no trouble getting reelected as mayor of Taipei. Over the last four years, Chen has shuttered the capital's sleazy massage parlors and brought down the crime rate. He has opened more parks. His administration is a marvel of efficiency and, most spectacularly, he has unclogged the city's gridlock with new rail lines and bus-only lanes. His approval rating: more than 70%.

But in Taiwan's new and vibrant democracy, local politics tends to transcend issues such as parks and bus lanes. If Chen, 47, wins reelection, he will emerge as the strongest contender for the republic's top job when President Lee Teng-hui completes his second and final term two years from now. The significance of that is not merely local or even islandwide, but global. Lee's Kuomintang (KMT), 53 years in power in Taiwan, favors ultimate unification with China, agreed upon between equals, once the mainland adopts democracy. By contrast, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) campaigns for a separate if amicable relationship with the mainland. The prospect of a DPP-governed Taiwan provokes jitters in Beijing--which is why Chen says he "feels honored" by media suggestions that he is the individual "most feared" by China.

The neck-and-neck race between Chen and Ma Ying-jeou, 48, a charismatic former Justice Minister in the KMT government, is just one of many key battles in this week's voting. The DPP is also challenging the mayoralty of Kaohsiung, the island's second-largest city. And 225 seats are up for grabs in the main parliamentary body, the Legislative Yuan. If the opposition does well, the KMT could lose its thin majority, possibly propelling Taiwan into an era of fractious politics and coalition governments. "These elections will impact Taiwan's direction in the 21st century," predicts Inge Chen, a professor of finance and law at Christian Chung Yuan University. "In relations with China, they will influence the next step, as in a game of chess."

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This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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